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They 'agree'? Yea, Gwen?

by Jeremy Hooper

We've already shown you the clip of Biden and Palin's take on gay equality, and given you our thoughts on the matter. But we want to look at one particular moment from last night's debate just a little more closely. The point we want to look at is how moderator Gwen Ifil wrapped up the gay discussion:

Okay, so yes, both Biden and Palin voiced non-support for the word marriage. But prior to this, Joe Biden had just given a passionate call for parity in terms of benefits, saying he "absolutely, positively" supports that notion. He also had stated, with emphasis, that "in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple." Plus he said that he and Sen. Obama are dedicated to ensuring "that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do."

Gov. Palin, on the other hand, cited a fear that benefits are a step "towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman." She also cited a belief that gays are "choosing" their love lives. And not only did her speech, seemingly filled with code-worded winks to the anti-gay side, contain a bare minimum of concern for gay couples' welfare, it also drove yet another stake in the flawed idea that Sarah Palin, in vetoing legislation to stop them, was in any way supportive of the DP benefits that came to her state under her tenure.

Now back to the initial point, which is the way Gwen Ifil wrapped up the conversation. She basically said that the two candidates agree on same-sex marriage, and then quickly moved on. End of story. Only problem? It's not even close to the end of this story, nor is it an accurate assessment of what came before it! While on some matters we don't know Biden and Palin's specific nuance, we do have some concrete information of the differences in these tickets and potential administrations. We know that the McCain ticket (and the Republican party) is in support of the marriage amendments that are up at the polls in Arizona, Florida, and California, while the Obama ticket (and the Democratic Party) is NOT. Emphatically not, in fact. And in terms of marriage, this is a MAJOR distinction. Whereas the McCain ticket is in hopes that California's court-mandated marriage equality is eliminated on 11/4 at the hand of majority tyranny, the Obama ticket recognizes the reality of the situation and defers to the court's judgement. The Dems' pragmatic approach may lead to a reluctance to support the word marriage, but it is not reluctant to support the California Supreme Court's reasoned judgement on constitutional equality!

Also, the Obama ticket is in favor of ridding the world of the Defense of Marriage Act. The McCain ticket is supportive of the same. Not to mention that John McCain, even though he voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, has specifically indicated that he would back such a measure if certain variables (like DOMA's elimination and more states obtaining marriage equality) made it "necessary." He even used the word "Armageddon" to describe the potential advancement of marriage equality. Again, this is vastly different the Democratic ticket's stance!

So yes, both Sarah P and Joey B said "NO!" on giving gays the word marriage. But did they and do they "agree"? We say no, not even close. And we sincerely wish Gwen Ifil would have refrained from giving the American public the impression that they did and do.

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Your thoughts

Per a comment on PHB I understand that AWFUL AWFUL IFILL was leaned on heavily by the right not to make any waves during the debate...and so she didn't..They should have thrown her out right when Palin stated she was not going to answer any of her questions, just read off her little note pad!

Let alont teh gay marriage fiasco...how about the fact that she thinks the VP's job is to RUN THE SENATE!

IFILL was AWFULLL! and that's all there is to it. It should have been KCouric running it...
or better yet Pam Spaulding!

Posted by: LOrion | Oct 3, 2008 11:29:40 AM

Honestly, along with so many other aspects of responsible journalism, it seems that we have thrown out the very definition of "debate." Neither Lehrer nor Ifil conducted a true debate, and neither were in any semblance of control.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Oct 3, 2008 11:52:26 AM

I think that Ifil's, "Wonderful, you agree!" was more tongue-in-cheek, and not meant to suggest that the two actually agreed. And, from the laughter of the crowd, they seemed to get the joke too. Granted, it may have seemed to be in bad taste, but on a more cynical level it seemed that she was mocking the moose terminator.

My big problem was that Palin was asked whether she agreed that the rights of same-sex couples should be exactly the same as those of opposite-sex couples, and Palin reframed the question so that she could dodge it. Either that, or she wasn't paying attention when Biden asked the question? Or she couldn't remember his question? Either way, it doesn't speak well for her.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Oct 3, 2008 1:12:55 PM

Hmm..I don't see it at all tongue-in-cheek, Dick. I see any laughter attached to it as like, "Oh wow -- you two can finally agree on something!"

Posted by: G-A-Y | Oct 3, 2008 1:43:47 PM

I'll just say briefly that Jeremy saw clues and winks and code words and stuff that that I just didn't see.

And as much as it may serve a partisan purpose to claim that McCain is a die-hard supporter of the marriage propositions and Obama a valiant warriar against their passage, the truth is that neither is involved. McCain sent an email to Prop 8 (and has taken a position Prop 102 or Amendment 2, as far as I know, though we can presume it would be favorable if he did) and Obama has sent a letter of opposition on Prop 8 (and nothing on the others, I believe, though he no doubt opposes them). Yes, Obama's position is better. But I'd certainly not see "hopes" or "emphatically" on either side. OK, sidetrack over.

In NO WAY were Palin and Biden in agreement.

It may be a bit dangerous to say this... but Palin was masterful in avoiding the question or debating the details. Much smarter than I would have expected - we should not underestimate this woman. Behind that folksy exterior is a woman who is fully aware that she avoided a direct question and got away with it.

And Ifel should NOT have allowed it to happen, much less parrot the response Palin wanted.

Biden supports (limited, ugh) civil equality. Palin opposes even partner medical benefits.

It's NOT the same.

Posted by: Timothy | Oct 3, 2008 3:28:41 PM

"And as much as it may serve a partisan purpose to claim that McCain is a die-hard supporter of the marriage propositions and Obama a valiant warriar against their passage, the truth is that neither is involved."

Alright, Timothy, I'm getting a little tired of this. I'm hardly a partisan who would make claims only to serve the Dems! Die-hard or not, MCCAIN SUPPORTS STATE-LEVEL MARRIAGE BANS. AND HE ONLY OPPOSED THE FMA WITH THE CAVEAT THAT THE WOULD SUPPORT IT IF CONDITIONS GOT WORSE! You have run cover for him on this issue for the past year or so, and at times attempted to paint me as unreasonable for presenting McCain as anti-marriage equality. That is simply unfair.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Oct 3, 2008 3:47:04 PM


Yes I know that they came down on opposite sides on Prop 8. And by all means, say so. Repeatedly and regularly.

But you do make it seem as though McCain is campaigning or making some effort to get Prop 8 passed. Other than an email, that is not factually correct. Nor is it correct that Obama is emphatically opposing Prop 8. His opposition is limited to a letter.

Those are facts.

And while it is absolutely fair to state that the candidates are not in agreement and that Obama has opposed Prop 8, it is not fair to create a false impression.

I live in CA. I would WELCOME Obama's support. I'm annoyed as heck that it has been limited to a single statement. Trust me, I worry about the vote. And I think that in our state Obama could be very influential in encouraging Africa Americans (and many others) to vote "No".

And I'm not carrying water for McCain. I don't want to give a false notion about his lack of support for basic civil equalities.

But it is NOT true to say that he would support FMA "if the conditions got worse". That's just not factually correct.

He said that if the states were forced to recognize another state's standards, he would support an amendment TO REMOVE THAT REQUIREMENT. He's NEVER said he'd support an amendment to dictate heterosexual marriage only. There is a HUGE difference and if we check the record we'll see that Hillary Clinton did not want to dissolve the whole DOMA for just that reason. (I tend to agree with her at this point)

Yes, McCain is opposed to marriage equality. Yes, he supports state-level bans. That is an accurate presentation.

But we do need to keep our declarations about him within the confines of factual reporting. His positions are bad enough. We don't need to exagerate them or extrapolate from them or say that he's "in hopes" of something he's put zero effort towards.

Don't you agree?

Posted by: Timothy | Oct 3, 2008 4:52:23 PM

"But you do make it seem as though McCain is campaigning or making some effort to get Prop 8 passed."

That is absolute hogwash! I have done nothing of the sort! All I have said, repeatedly, is that John McCain supports state-level bans, and that he would support the FMA if we get some of the progress that we are seeking (DOMA elimination, more states with full marriage, etc). To me that is MORE than enough reason for gays to be wary.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Oct 3, 2008 5:00:18 PM

It is inexcusable that Palin was able to dodge that question the way she did. Biden's answer was far from perfect, but it was still in our corner and consistent with previous statements from the Obama campaign.

On a side note, I wonder how long it will take the LCR's to jump on this.

Posted by: Rainbow Phoenix | Oct 3, 2008 5:01:52 PM

McCain said he'd support AN AMENDMENT, but as best I can tell it would be to allow states to each define their own marriages.

I hate being put in the position of having to defend John McCain. But is it really right to say "he would support the FMA if we get some of the progress that we are seeking", when he didn't say that?

If you have a link, please share it. But will you please please just consider not making this claim unless you can back it up?

That would be fair, right?

Posted by: Timothy | Oct 3, 2008 7:13:10 PM

Oh PLEASE. Timothy, just listen to his floor speech on the day of the FMA vote:


I'm sorry, but to me those conditions are still not an acceptable basis to support a federal measure. Quite the contrary. So I think it is 100% fair to say that "he would support the FMA if we get some of the progress that we are seeking." And I think you are being 100% UNfair to say he "didn't say that," as if I'm misquoting him or something! But then again, you did once directly compare to Peter LaBarbera on here (with virtually no apology), so..whatever.

Also, there have been more and more social conservatives indicating that McCain has expressed more of a willingness on an FMA. On Signorile's show today, Bishop Harry Jackson gave just such an indication. And let's not forget that Jerry Falwell indicated as much before he died:

And why do YOU think his version of an FMA would be his own creation? Where is your link?

Posted by: G-A-Y | Oct 3, 2008 7:40:25 PM


Go listen again. He says:

"If... list of conditions... then and only then should we consider quite appropriately amending the Constitution of the United States".

He does NOT - I repeat NOT - say amending it to ban gay marriage. It's not in there. He doesn't say amend the Constitution with the FMA. Again, not in there.

Setting a federal marriage definition and imposing it on the states is contrary to his idealogy. He WOULD be in favor of those states banning marriage for themselves and if the courts forced them to recognize marriage he'd support an amendment TO allow THEMSELVES to self determination about marriage.

He's never said anything ever at any point which supports the accusation that he would support FMA.

As for the newspaper account (not quote) from Jerry Falwell's repeating the gist of a conversation, well we weren't there. But rather than go by what Brown said that Falwell said that McCain said, let's go to the source:

"As a Republican, I am a strong advocate for federalism. States should be able to decide as many issues as possible. That’s certainly the case on the definition of marriage. My home state of Arizona shouldn’t be compelled to recognize a marriage from California or Massachusetts. Those states can decide that issue by themselves."

Does that sound to you like he wants to impose a federal definition of marriage on California or Massachusetts?

We can disagree with him about whether states should be able to ban marriage equality at all. But I do not think that you have provided evidence that McCain wants a federal definition.

Posted by: Timothy | Oct 3, 2008 8:28:26 PM

NRO "Bench Memos":

McCain's "federalism" view could someday soon become the reason why he reverses course on the FMA. For McCain has long said — and said so again yesterday, in Philadelphia — that if any state is made to accept out-of-state "gay marriages," then he is all for an FMA. He said yesterday: "[I]f some federal judge rules that all the states must recognize the [gay] marriages in Massachusetts, I would be in favor of pursuing a Constitutional amendment." When California recognizes same-sex "marriages" next Tuesday —- and with state authorities saying they will not limit it to California residents — the likelihood of SSM's involuntary transmission to another state will increase exponentially.


This is fruitless. It's Friday. I'm done.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Oct 3, 2008 8:58:37 PM

"Yes, McCain is opposed to marriage equality. Yes, he supports state-level bans. That is an accurate presentation."

Actually, that's pretty much what Obama has consistently said. The Jim Crow staples of separate-but-equal (civil unions but don't use the M-word!!!) and States Rights (the familiar "leave it up to the states" schtick) make that pretty clear.

What that part of the debate, and Ifill's dismissive response, should tell people dedicated to equal rights is that while an Obama-Biden administration would be more approachable than a McCain-Palin one, no one can take anything for granted.

They're politicians. They'd sell their granddaughters to a Singapore whorehouse if they thought it would get them elected. We all need to be realistic about that.

Posted by: Bobs Friend | Oct 4, 2008 1:16:56 PM

Yes. They're all politicians. But with an Obama/Biden administration there is a chance of acheiving full equality -- with McCain/Palin, think snowball and Hell.

It can't be said any better than that.

Obama's campaign is one that tip-toes on egg shells. He can't be TOO anything if he ever hopes to see the White House. McCain can be angry and he's the crotchety maverick, if Obama does the same thing, he's the scary black man and unelectable.

There are double standards all around that we just have to suck up and deal with. Like Biden and Palin. He could have easily made her look stupid, but it would have backfired and America would have felt sorry for the folksy governor. More egg shells.

One more month. Hopefully Obama can keep his cool that long.

Posted by: Taylor Siluwé | Oct 4, 2008 5:47:48 PM


I hear "an amendment" and you hear "an amendment to ban gay marriage in the states that have it". OK.

I think it might be best if I held off on my comments for about another month. We should be back into agreement on most things by that time.

Posted by: Timothy | Oct 4, 2008 10:41:28 PM

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