Human Rights Campaign Forum With the Democratic Candidates

Washington, DC, July 15, 2003


...Each candidate will appear separately, and in the order in which their acceptance to today's forum was received. Each candidate will have ten minutes—a two-minute opening statement, a three-minute closing statement, and in between I'll attempt to draw them out on their views. It's really just that simple. So let's get started.


MR. DONALDSON: Our next candidate is Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont. Governor Dean. (Applause.)

MR. DEAN: Thank you.

MR. DONALDSON: Welcome, governor. Welcome, governor. You have two minutes for an opening statement.

MR. DEAN: Thank you, Sam. A lot of people are going to come before you today and tell you how they voted and what they'll do. I'm lucky enough to be able to come before you and tell you what I've done, as well as what I'll do. (Applause.) Gay Americans are out of the closet, proudly demanding the legal rights that other Americans have—the right to be free from job discrimination, the right to be protected from hate crimes, the right to serve in the military without shame or deception. In Vermont, you have the first two of those rights, and when I'm president you'll have all of them. (Applause.)

I'm honored to have played a role in this historic march to equality. I don't think I have to tell you that as governor of Vermont I signed the first civil unions bill in the country. (Applause.) And other states, such as Massachusetts, are considering other ways to recognize the legal rights of same-sex couples, including gay marriage. Whether it's through civil marriage or civil unions or other means, gay couples should be able to claim the same rights and responsibilities that straight couples have. Health benefits—and in Vermont, you have them. Child custody—in Vermont you have that right. Inheritance—in Vermont you have that right. Hospital visitation—in Vermont, you have that right.

The primary obstacle to achievement of equal rights for all Americans, including gay and lesbian Americans, is the Defense of Marriage Act, which I spoke out against at the time it was passed, and which as president of the United States I will do everything in my power to repeal. (Applause.) That is the barrier—that is the barrier to equal rights under the law for all Americans.

MR. DONALDSON: Thank you, governor. The time is up.

MR. DEAN: Thank you.

MR. DONALDSON: Thank you. Governor, you have said that you can't force civil unions on the other states. If you were president, what would you do then? Just talk about it and then take no further action?

MR. DEAN: No, I—first of all, as president I would recognize the rights of all same-sex couples who had entered into civil unions. Right now there are approximately 1,400 rights that are available to married people that are not available to people who are not allowed to get married. I will change that by recognizing—we are asking Congress to recognize those rights. We can't tell—marriage is not a federal business. That's why I think DOMA is unconstitutional. It's not the federal government's business who gets married and who doesn't. That's left to the states. What is the federal government's business is equal rights under the law, and that it will provide.

MR. DONALDSON: So if a couple is married in Vermont for instance and goes to a state, moves to a state that does not have the civil union, they would have what? All the federal rights, not the state rights?

MR. DEAN: If a couple has—well, there's two parts, you ask two questions really. First of all --

MR. DONALDSON: I've been known to ask three. (Laughter.)

MR. DEAN: If a couple moves—if a couple has a civil union in Vermont, they have all the same rights that every other couple has under federal law, if I am president of the United States. If they move to another state, what the federal government—the federal government cannot tell another state that they have to have marriage or civil unions. But they can tell them they have to find a way to have equal rights under the law, and that's consistently my position. I also believe that applies to people who go to Canada and take advantage of the new Canadian laws that permit gay marriage. When those couples come back to the United States they are entitled, through the legal principle of comity, to the same rights that every other couple has.

MR. DONALDSON: Rights. Now let's talk about the word “marriage.” You are against marriage of the same sex. Why?

MR. DEAN: I've never said that, as a matter of fact. What I am against—what I believe in is equal rights under the law for every single American.

MR. DONALDSON: Then you are for marriage?

MR. DEAN: We chose to do civil unions in Vermont because we believed that marriage should be left to the churches, and that equal rights under the law was what the state owes everybody.

MR. DONALDSON: I'm trying to find out what your position is on marriage. You are quite clear as to what you did in Vermont, and the audience has applauded you for doing it. What about marriage though? Why not allow gays to marry?

MR. DEAN: I feel like I'm back on Tim Russert's show here. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

MR. DONALDSON: Tim was but a pup when I was doing this in Washington. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

MR. DEAN: I knew I should have said the George Stephanopoulos show. (Laughter.) My position is marriage is not the federal government's business. That's the state's business. If the state of Massachusetts next week or next month, or whenever they decide their court cases, said gay people can get married, the federal government needs to recognize them as having the same rights as everybody else. If another state decides that they are going to have civil unions, the federal government needs to give them the same rights that everybody else has. The federal government doesn't take a position on marriage—and it shouldn't. What the federal government does is to make sure to do what we did in Vermont, was to make sure that every single American has the same rights as every other American.

MR. DONALDSON: Governor, forgive me. What you seem to be saying, and I know you'll correct me if I've misinterpreted you, is that the federal government should see that everyone has the rights, privileges, obligations of heterosexuals who marry but not the word?

MR. DEAN: It's not the federal government's business, Sam.

MR. DONALDSON: Well, then why is it the federal government's business to confer rights and make certain that they have them, but not the word, governor?

MR. DEAN: I saw the --

MR. DONALDSON: I am saying this because, as you know, sir—and you're a very smart man, and I'm not trying to pander to you. (Laughter.) But it's the word itself. If you ask Americans, according to the polls, they are overwhelmingly for granting gays and lesbians all the rights that you have been talking about. They seem to be against the word “marriage.” Is that the hang-up?

MR. DEAN: I think that is the hang-up among states. And what we decided to do, since we're the only people that have ever done this --

MR. DONALDSON: Why should it be a hang-up though?

MR. DEAN: Because marriage has a long, long history of a religious institution, and marriage—when the rule of law developed it became a civil and a religious institution, and people have a lot of trouble telling the difference. My view is that we have to have a civil institution which provides equal rights for every single American. That's what we did in Vermont. When other states do it—and I want them to do it—we will have to recognize those rights, and we should.

MR. DONALDSON: I am sorry to belabor it, but I think --

MR. DEAN: As long as I don't get time taken out from my closing statement. (Laughter.)

MR. DONALDSON: No, I won't take from your time, sir. As you know, many people are married by the justice of the peace, by a judge. I don't know whether ship captains marry many these days, but these are all secular individuals that have nothing to do with the religious ceremony.

MR. DEAN: That's true.

MR. DONALDSON: Well, then why say it's a religious institution?

MR. DEAN: Because it is.

MR. DONALDSON: Except for those who were married by justices of peace?

MR. DEAN: Do you want to keep talking about this, or do you want to go on to the military question? (Laughter.)

MR. DONALDSON: You're right, I belabored it too long. We have just a few seconds. You mentioned Canadian marriages—I think you said on Tim Russert's show that you weren't certain about the legality of it, recognizing them in the United States. Have you reviewed that position?

MR. DEAN: Yes. We believe that a couple who goes to Canada and gets married is entitled to the same rights and privileges as someone who comes—who gets married anyplace else, or who has a civil union and therefore should be entitled to the same benefits, federal benefits, as anybody else.

MR. DONALDSON: Governor, it is time for your closing statement.

MR. DEAN: Thank you very much. We didn't even get to ask about don't ask/don't tell, which I think is a bad policy. (Laughter.) And I've talked to a lot of military people about it.

Let me ask you for your help, ask you for your support. I am not asking you for your support because I think you owe me for civil unions. I'm asking for your support because of all the advances we have made together in the last three years.

I signed the civil unions bill when it was supported by about 35 percent of the public six months before my fifth reelection bid, and I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.

And what the American people should know about this, that if I'm willing to sign a bill that's at 35 percent in the polls six months before my fifth reelection bid, that I am willing to do the right thing and stand up, no matter what the polls and what the focus groups say. (Applause.)

And the fact is people will say, Well, how is this guy going to win in the South, having supported civil unions? I'll tell you exactly how I'm going to win in the South. The South has the highest percentage of veterans of any part of the country. I gave a speech about eight months ago in Washington, and I don't remember who the group was or what the topic was, but I got off the stage, and a guy came up and said, “Governor, I'm 80 years old. I want to thank you for the civil unions bill.” And I was surprised, and I said, “Oh, thank you very much. Do you have a son who is gay or a daughter who is lesbian?” And he said, “No, governor, I'm a veteran. I served on a beach on D-Day, and a lot of my friends were killed, and I'm gay.”

There's a guy, my guess is by virtue of his age, who lived most of his life in the closet—there's a guy who did what all those folks in the White House are talking about all the time who never did serve abroad -- (applause) -- he was willing— he was willing to give his life, and he did give the life of his friends in defense of the freedom of the United States and defense of the freedom of the free world. That's a guy who deserves exactly the same benefits as everybody else when he comes home. And when I am president he's going to have them. Thanks. (Applause.)

MR. DONALDSON: Thank you very much, Governor Dean. Our next candidate is the senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, Senator Lieberman. (Applause.)

Copyright 2003 Federal News Service, Inc.

--- End ---



Back to Dean Speeches

Or else I'm just a Luddite