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Is America Ready For Gay Marriage?

Aired July 31, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Are Americans ready for gay marriages? President Bush says no.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: No change is necessary, in my view. You have got it in law today.

ANNOUNCER: Democrats with eyes on '04 are going after each other. The primary campaign is suddenly getting fiscal -- today on CROSSFIRE.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.



Are Americans ready to see homosexual couples walk down the aisle? Ready or not, such weddings may be coming to a chapel near you. Courts in two states are grappling whether to legalize gay and lesbian marriages. And the issue could divide the country down cultural lines. In a few minutes, we'll debate the issue.

But, first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Bad news for Democrats today. That's because there was good news for the economy. Thanks to both consumer and business spending, the U.S. economy grew at 2.4 percent in the second quarter of this year. That's the strongest economic showing in nearly a year. Now, what's interesting about that 2.4 percent growth is that it's about twice as much as the consensus prediction by economists of 1.5 percent. If you listen to this and other political programs, you know that the Democrats have nothing to sell, except despair, depression and defeat. Sorry to give you good news, Paul.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Bob, sorry to give you a bad grade in math in economics, but 1.5 is not half of 2.4, just to begin with.


BEGALA: It's kind of Republican math, I guess, fuzzy math.


BEGALA: But, more importantly, it's still very anemic economic growth. We had real growth under President Clinton, 23 million new jobs.


BEGALA: This president has cost us 2.5 million jobs.


BEGALA: We won't have true good economic news until George Bush loses his job.

NOVAK: No, it's a matter of what the direction it's going in, Paul. And I know you've put all your hopes on a great depression. It ain't coming.

BEGALA: No, I'm depressed every day Bush is in office.


BEGALA: But I'm worried about what he's done to the economy, unfortunately.



BEGALA: In a more serious matter, two more Americans were killed in Iraq today. One was brought down by small-arms fire, another by a land mine. In all, 110 American troops have died in the 92 days since President Bush landed on that aircraft carrier and declared mission accomplished.

The president is preparing to depart for a month-long vacation. He plans to visit his Crawford, Texas, ranch, take some occasional trips to raise special interest money. The president, though, has no publicly announced plans to attend any of the funerals of the brave Americans who have died in Iraq. Apparently, that's not as much fun as dressing up and playing fighter jock.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, sometimes I think I'm on a campaign, because I've heard you say that same thing so many times over and over again.

But while you're saying it, let's get the numbers right. The number of American soldiers killed by hostile fire since the end of the formal facilities is -- hostilities -- is 51. Why do you exaggerate the number?

BEGALA: By hostile fire. That is a weasel word, because 110 Americans are just as dead. The one who was killed today by a land mine, is he not as dead?

NOVAK: That's hostile fire.

BEGALA: That's hostile fire?

NOVAK: That is hostile fire.

BEGALA: How about a Humvee that rolls over because they're trying to avoid hostile fire?

NOVAK: You know, that can happen -- that can...

BEGALA: It's much more. Every one of those young men and women are in more danger because they're in Iraq than they would be if they were in the city of Washington, D.C.

NOVAK: That could happen in Camp Polk.



NOVAK: That could happen in Camp Polk, Louisiana, when something goes over.


NOVAK: But I really -- I really don't think the death of American boys and women should be a campaign issue.

BEGALA: I don't either. The president should go and pay his respects at those funerals.


BEGALA: News from the circular firing squad, otherwise known as the Democratic Party: Senator John Kerry has joined the other presidential candidates in attacking George W. Bush for cutting taxes, but says he would keep tax cuts for low-income Americans.

Now, Kerry's attacks -- now Kerry is attacking Howard Dean for wanting to get rid of all the tax cuts. Dean responded to "The Washington Post" that Kerry is just as bad as Bush. And Congressman Dick Gephardt contends, he was the first candidate proposing to roll back all the tax cuts and Dean stole his idea.

I remember, Paul, when John F. Kennedy wanted to cut taxes. Now Democrats compete for how much money to take away from us.

BEGALA: No. What they're competing for is how much the rich ought to pay. We think they ought to pay their fair share. They paid 39.6 percent under Clinton.


BEGALA: And the economy boomed. All Democrats are saying -- the smart ones, anyway -- are saying we should take -- the wealthy people should have to pay their fair share. You know, that is the notion that, from whom much has been given, much will be expected. That was Jesus Christ who said that, Bob. And I happen to believe him.

NOVAK: The economy -- what saved the economy in the Clinton administration was the capital gains cut enacted by the Republican Congress.


NOVAK: You don't understand that, but I do.

BEGALA: The capital gains cut was everything. It wasn't a Clinton economic plan that passed with only a Democratic vote?


BEGALA: Anyway, the man who is leading America's search for weapons of mass destruction told senators today -- quote -- "We are making solid progress" -- unquote -- in the hunt for the banned weapons. But when asked to be more specific, David Kay admitted that absolutely no chemical or biological material is in hand.

And today's "The Washington Post" reveals that the Iraqi scientists that the United States has been interrogating for months have told us that Saddam had not reconstituted his nuclear weapons program or produced chemical or biological weapons. Of course, at his press conference yesterday, President Bush continued to talk about the threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. But because he was standing behind a podium, the reporters there could not see that his pants were on fire.



NOVAK: Well, I feel like a one-man truth squad here.

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

NOVAK: I've said that before. But David Kay, after he talked to reporters, said there was some big news coming. He thought they were making tremendous progress. General Dayton, who is an associate in the search for the weapons of mass destruction, said that they thought they would find some. I think this is a work in progress. And the idea that he got up there and said, we can't find anything, that is not true. It's just not true. BEGALA: I read exactly -- I read exactly what he said. I read what -- CNN covered it. It was a closed-door meeting. We have good reporters. They covered it.

NOVAK: You didn't read the whole thing. You took it out of...

BEGALA: The truth is, the scientists are telling us that they didn't find anything.


NOVAK: If you had...

BEGALA: They didn't have anything and just won't tell the truth about it. That's the problem.

NOVAK: If you had watched CNN on "INSIDE POLITICS," you would have gotten a different story from Jonathan Karl. Try watching next time.

BEGALA: I watch every day.

At his press conference yesterday that I just mentioned, President Bush said that White House lawyers were looking to codify marriage in a way that would exclude gays and lesbians. Well, why are conservatives so afraid of two adults falling in love and making a commitment?

We will debate gay marriage with two women from very opposite sides of the issue when CROSSFIRE continues.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The issue of gay marriage is heating up this summer. Two states are considering whether to legalize same-sex unions. Canada now recognizes gay marriage. And the U.S. Supreme Court says that cops can no longer put gays in jail just for making love.


BEGALA: Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist has endorsed an anti-gay constitutional amendment. And President Bush just yesterday spoke out against gay unions.

Stepping into the CROSSFIRE to debate all of this: Sandy Rios -- she is with the Concerned Women for America -- and Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign.

Thank you both, ladies.

(APPLAUSE) NOVAK: Ms. Birch, let me show you a couple of very recent polls, the CNN/"TIME" poll. Legalize homosexual marriages? And we have yes 33 percent, no 60 percent.

And then, just more recently, taken -- a poll taken just a few days ago by CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup. Consider homosexuality an acceptable life style? Yes, it was 54 percent in May. It's 46 percent now. No, it was 43 percent in May, 49 percent now. Isn't it a case that, as homosexual marriage becomes more real, thanks to these court decisions, it's become -- people come face-to-face to it -- come face-to-face with it, they say no?


I think what is going on is that, over the last 30 years, you have a very deep and trending upward educational process. And if you poll on any issue, Mr. Novak, any issue, from inheritance to Social Security to employment, any issue, none of which gay people have the advantage of, you will get over 50 percent and, in some cases, well over.

What we're experiencing right now is a shockwave. The word marriage rattles America. There is no doubt they are grappling with it. But when you unbundle the elements of marriage, all of the things that go into a civil marriage license, not people going up the aisle, not sacred religious practices that should be honored and separated, but that incredible license that opens up a myriad of benefits and rights, as long as you live up to the responsibilities, the American people support laws that would extend to capture and bring stability to gay couples and their children. It is good public policy.

BEGALA: Sandy, as Bob likes to point out, I'm sort of a constant critic of our president and our vice president. Let me say something good about Dick Cheney.

He has spoken out with great candor about this issue. And I want to praise him. Here is what Dick Cheney has said to the country about his views on gay marriage. Take a look at our vice president.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard.


BEGALA: That, of course, was...

NOVAK: Was he debating Joe Lieberman in that?

BEGALA: Dick Cheney was debating Joe Lieberman in the primary -- in the campaign for the presidency and the vice presidency.


BEGALA: Do you why is Dick Cheney wrong when he says, as a principled conservative, that we should let people enter whatever relationships they want?

SANDY RIOS, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: I like Dick Cheney very much, but, in this case, he isn't a principled conservative. I think his judgment has been clouded by the fact that his daughter is gay. That's the only explanation I can give.

BEGALA: You're attacking his principle and now his personal life?

RIOS: Yes. Yes.

He's wrong. He's wrong. The president is right about this, Paul. And the point of it is...


RIOS: The problem is, Paul, that people are changeable.

We would -- we could just live in utter chaos if it weren't for some kind of moral order. I believe there is moral order. Just like there in order in the universe, the stars are in place and the moon, there is moral order.


RIOS: And if we accept all kinds of behavior as normal, we are going to live in chaos and we cannot survive. Our culture cannot survive this chaos.

There is order in the universe and there's order in terms of our morality. And gay marriage is out of the acceptable bounds of norm. That's not the way men were created to be with men or women with women. I know Elizabeth disagrees. And I know it's hard. And I think the trend in the polls shows exactly that people are really considering this. And they're realizing, no, wait a minute, we don't want to go that way. And 2,000 years of history have shown us we shouldn't go that way.


NOVAK: Ms. Birch, you were talking about -- you talking about the question of legal rights and, if you get married, you get your pension or you don't get your pension.

BIRCH: Right.

NOVAK: But I think people are not considering it on that basis. They're considering it on a moral point. People are very moral.

And I just want to read from the Vatican's statement, which is not homophobic. It's not mean. I just want to read just a short part of it: "Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity."

You can't really combat that with, say, but, no, we want our pension plan or we want some insurance.


BIRCH: You know, actually, let me say this. You absolutely can.

And including Catholics in America, where this actually polls quite favorably, the fact is, is that you're citing polls in the middle of a shockwave. Today, there is a "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll that shows that, when you poll again on all of the elements, the benefits, rights, privileges of marriage, 53 percent of Americans support those rights and responsibilities being extended to gay couples, because it offers stability for the couple and for their children.

Each time one person reaches out in the world to another and there is a mutuality of love and commitment over a long period of years, what America says is that people that act the same and take on the same responsibility should be treated the same. Why should I pay taxes my whole life and my partner and into government programs, such as...


BIRCH: Well, first of all, if you want talk about morality, the only part of the Bible that survives kind of a reverse engineering is Leviticus. And there is an explanation for that.

RIOS: You're wrong. You're wrong.

BIRCH: And, No. 2, how often did Jesus talk about homosexuality? Not once. Not once.

RIOS: Jesus didn't talk about a lot of things. He didn't talk about slavery either. Do you think he endorsed it?


BIRCH: And more than that, let me say one more thing. If homosexuality was such a horrible sin, it didn't even make the top ten.


RIOS: Elizabeth, you're wrong about this. Yes, he did.

BEGALA: Well, he certainly -- he did certainly talk about divorce.


BEGALA: Just a second. He didn't talk about gays and homosexuality, but he did talk about divorce. And I'm wondering, as a straight American, my folks have not had exactly a very good track record on marriage, OK? Don Imus, the radio host, was pointing that out this morning. Half of all straight marriages end in divorce. Tell me why Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani can get married three times, but a gay person can't get married once?

RIOS: Oh, Paul, you know what?


RIOS: You're talking about -- you're trying to -- you're trying to make the case for gay marriage by pointing out something else that's wrong. I mean, marriage should be a faithful union between a man and woman for a lifetime. And that's a fact. And any time...


BIRCH: ... the moral universe, saying you should be doing better.

RIOS: Elizabeth...


BIRCH: Half of your marriages fail.


RIOS: Elizabeth, that's -- you know what? You're right. And that's a shameful thing. And a lot of the men in here are hooked on pornography. And a lot of the women are hooked on romance novels and fantasizing about other people. The point is...

BIRCH: So stop cheering that.


BEGALA: Most of the women here actually are fantasizing about Novak, I have to admit.



RIOS: No, please let me make my point.

NOVAK: Ms. Birch, you're very active in politics. And the Democrats, only the three bottom-feeders support gay marriage. Kerry won't comment on it. Dean, Lieberman and -- got booed at your place. Edwards got booed. You have lost the Democratic candidates on this, haven't you?

BIRCH: I don't think we have. And I don't think we've lost the American people. But I want to acknowledge, this is tough. It rattles people. It is like a political fireball. And I've got to tell you, Mr. Novak, when you break it down, the American people are with us.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to have to take a break.

And our guests next will face "Rapid Fire," where the debate is quick and the questions are pointed. And later, in "Fireback," one of our viewers brings the founding fathers -- believe it -- into our debate on gay marriage.





NOVAK: Time now for our "Rapid Fire" segment. Our topic: Is America ready for gay marriage? Once again, our guests are Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign, Sandy Rios of Concerned Women For America -- Paul.

BEGALA: Sandy, do you believe gays go to hell?

RIOS: If they don't accept Christ as their saviors, yes. But there are a lot of adulterers and gays who are going to hell. No one is sinless, Paul. And we are not -- we are not -- and we are not sent to hell by actions. We're sent to hell by our rejection of God.

NOVAK: Ms. Birch, they're going to have a gay high school in New York. They're going to teach gay geography, gay math; is that going to be the drill?


BIRCH: The high school that you're referring to has been in existence since 1984. It is the Harvey Milk School. I don't know why the media thinks this is a brand new school. It has been funded by -- as an alternative New York school, among many others, for years and years. I don't know why this is a news story.

Sadly, the commentary on having a Harvey Milk or a school -- and there's lots of programs like this in the country -- is because young gay people are being brutalized and shoved in toilets and shoved into their locker and beaten up over and over. And New York City has created a haven for a few kids.


BEGALA: Sandy, I'm curious, why do conservatives want the government to stop regulating corporate economic behavior and start regulating private personal behavior? I think more people got screwed by Enron than all the gay marriages that could ever exist.


RIOS: Well, about this, Paul? How about both are important? How about regulations that are moral in the corporate world and in the private world? How about both?


NOVAK: If you'll go for a gay high school, will you also go for a single-sex, male, heterosexual high school?

BIRCH: I think that those schools are protected under the United States Constitution.

NOVAK: Oh, look around New York for one. I don't think you'll find it.

BIRCH: Well, that's because, economically, they have integrated to draw more women in, who, frankly tend to do quite well in those schools.

BEGALA: Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign, I'm sorry to cut you off, but we are out of time. Thank you very much.

Sandy Rios, Concerned Women For America, thank you very much.



BEGALA: It's time to ask our audience question of the day: Should homosexuals be allowed to marry? If you're in our studio audience, get out that little voting device we gave you when you arrived. Press one for yes. Press two if you say no. We will have the answer for you after the break.

And also, our viewers will get a chance to respond in "Fireback." And one of our viewers has written in with his firsthand perspective on gay relationships.

Stay with us.



NOVAK: It's "Fireback."

We asked our people here in the studio audience, should homosexuals be allowed to marry? Democrats, 91 percent say yes. Republicans, 77 percent say no.

BEGALA: But what's interesting is 23 percent are Dick Cheney Republicans, who are not bigots. God bless them. God bless Vice President Cheney for having an enlightened view.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) BEGALA: Our first e-mail is from Claude Gruenor of Austin, Texas, my town. He says: "My partner and I have been in a faithful and committed gay relationship for 10 years. We consider ourselves married, whatever President Bush thinks. We are being discriminated against, however, if we are not allowed the same legal and tax benefits other married couples receive."

There is the case.

NOVAK: Well, if they consider themselves, that's good enough for them. I don't think they need those pensions.

Brian of New Orleans, Louisiana, says: "Our founders came to America to, in many cases, escape rigid Catholic persecution. This administration has done a horrifically great job of blurring the lines between state and religion. It seems we have forgotten the dangers of allowing religion to dictate government policy."


NOVAK: Brian, you got it all wrong. In the first place, they have not gone over the line. In the second place, our forbearers came to this country to escape the Church of England.


NOVAK: Which was persecuting Catholics.

BEGALA: That's absolutely true, Anglicans, particularly Anglicans persecuting Catholics who settled in Louisiana.


NOVAK: Question. Question.

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Michelle (ph) from Albany, New York.

Do you see any inconsistencies in banning gay marriages on religious grounds and our nation's separation of church and state?

NOVAK: Do I see any inconsistencies? Yes. The separation of church and state, you have probably been brainwashed all your life. All it says is that it shall not be an established religion.


NOVAK: It does not say you can't have religious values.

BEGALA: No, but does say -- there are lot of very principled religious people who have religious objections to gay marriage. And I respect that. But there are legal rights. They allow every corporation in America to emerge. They ought to let people decide if they want to form a private consensual contract.

NOVAK: Quickly.

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Britney (ph) from Dry Creek, Louisiana.

And my question involves the recent polls that we've seen today that Americans are opposing same-sex marriage. So I wanted to know how you all felt about weight being given to Americans' opinions?

NOVAK: I'm sorry. What did you say, weight being what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Weight being given to Americans' opinions with the polls?

NOVAK: Well, I don't believe in too much democracy, but when they agree with me, I'm all for it.


BEGALA: I can't say it better than that.

But this is a fundamental civil right, Britney. I don't think it should be submitted to polls, because a lot of -- particularly in our native South, a lot of civil rights would have never passed if they had been put up to a poll. So it's fundamental civil rights.


BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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