The Magazine

The Issue That Dare Not Speak Its Name

From the August 16 / August 23, 2004 issue: The candidates won't be able to avoid the gay marriage debate.

Aug 16, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 46 • By FRANK CANNON and JEFFREY BELL
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Kerry was also demanding that the drive by federal and state judges to enshrine same-sex marriage not be opposed, or even debated. In a town hall meeting in Wisconsin the week after the convention, he repeated the warning: "We've got leadership that tends to try to drive a wedge between people. It picks one of the hot button, cultural issues and drives that at you, whether or not that's the most important thing on America's mind."

Events such as those last week in Missouri and Washington are making it less and less likely that Kerry, and the Democrats who cheered him in Boston, will get their wish. Kerry has made it clear that he and Edwards are personally opposed to same-sex marriage, so the debate will not be about the merits of this impending social change. Kerry, remember, has "no problem" with the Missouri vote. Yet everyone knows that, if left to themselves, judges like the ones in Massachusetts and Washington state will override the preferences of the 70 percent or so of Americans who likewise oppose same-sex marriage.

When it comes up in the fall campaign, as it certainly will, the issue will be what to do about this collision between democratic decision-making and judicial ambition. President Bush will have a clear answer: He will fight to preserve marriage, and his opponent will not. How does Bush know this? Kerry opposes changing the Constitution to preserve traditional marriage. He was one of 14 senators to vote against legislation to let states preserve it. And he is committed to appointing the kind of federal judges who created the problem in the first place.

That is the debate John Kerry can no longer avoid.

Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon are principals of Capital City Partners, a Washington consulting firm.