The CNN debate the other night, which featured YouTube questions, posed a couple of direct and simple questions about same-sex marriage to the Democratic presidential candidates.
One of the questions was from the Reverend Reggie Longcrier, a pastor from Hickory, North Carolina: "Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote. So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay Americans their full and equal rights?"
Not all of the candidates got to answer each question -- as I understand the format, each question was answered by three of the candidates, in rotation, and Obama, Edwards and Richardson spoke to this question -- so I didn't get to hear Hillary Clinton's answer. But I did get to hear John Edwards' and Barack Obama's answers.
Edwards went slick at the beginning of his answer, agreeing that it is wrong for "any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we're President of the United States" but then went on to talk about his "enormous personal conflict" on the marriage question, which he has said, at other times, is faith-based, and then talked about his "journey on this issue" and his "tremendous personal conflict".
Fair enough, I guess -- Edwards is one among millions of Americans who are, in good faith, making a "journey on this issue" -- but as lawyers would say, Edward's answer was non-responsive. I've watched Edwards enough on C-SPAN to know that his immediate response to any tough question is to agree and then walk his way out of the issue, leaving you wondering how much the Bible he's selling really costs, once you add in everything that comes along with it. Edwards, whatever you make think of him, responded true to form, and he does seem to be making progress on his journey. So I'm not frustrated.
But Obama is a different story. His answer dodged the question almost entirely. Obama ignored the question's reminder that interracial couples like his parents were denied the freedom to marry in many states when Obama was born into this world.
Obama, in fact, ignored the question of civil marriage entirely, speaking instead of marriage as a religious matter: "Now, with respect to marriage, it's my belief that it's up to the individual denominations to make a decision as to whether they want to recognize marriage or not. But in terms of, you know, the rights of people to transfer property, to have hospital visitation, all those critical civil rights that are conferred by our government, those should be equal."
I've been around this track before with Obama, and Obama hasn't moved an inch in his thinking since the last round in April. He's still stuck on religious marriage, without seeming to even realize that "rights of people to transfer property, to have hospital visitation, all those critical civil rights that are conferred by our government" are conferred by civil marriage, not religious marriage.
Reverend Longcrier's question was fair, and it goes to the nub of the issue.
Gays and lesbians, like African-Americans in an earlier time, have been battered bloody in the last decade by "faith-based" politicians. We've had enough of it, and that's a fact.
I can deal with Edwards' line of thinking, because he's obviously thinking, even if he is slick. Obama, on the other hand, seems stuck in the tired old groove of the faith-based, the idea that civil marriage and religious marriage are identical, and that's not going to cut it with me.
I know Obama. He was my neighbor and Illinois State Senator years ago. He has a first-rate mind, and ferocious analytical skills. He can think outside the box, and often does. That's why I have an Obama sticker on my truck. But he is going to have to apply his mind to this issue, or the sticker is coming off.
The simple fact is that I'm not willing to put a Democrat in the presidency for eight years who is going to spend those eight years insisting that civil marriage is sacred. It isn't, and I've heard enough of that nonsense in the last eight years.
Bill Richardson, by the way, probably gave the most honest answer to the question. After doing a body dance of avoidance, he finally said that he wanted to work for "what is achievable". It was as honest an answer as we are likely to get from a politician. But it doesn't cut it, either. Hanging around waiting for the people to come around is something I understand in our political process, but it isn't leadership. Bill Richardson just tagged himself the new Tommy Thompson.