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VP Debate Excerpts:
Gay Rights and Wrongs

Following is the complete transcript of the exchange on same-sex marriage between vice-presidential candidates Joe Lieberman (Democrat) and Dick Cheney (Republican). The moderator was CNN's Bernard Shaw. The debate took place at Centre College in Danbury, Kentucky, on October 5, 2000.

SHAW: Senator, sexual orientation. Should a male who loves a male and a female who loves a female have all—all—the constitutional rights enjoyed by every American citizen?"

LIEBERMAN: Very current and difficult question, and I've been thinking about it, and I want to explain what my thoughts have been.

Maybe I should begin this answer by going back to the beginning of the country and the Declaration of Independence, which says right there at the outset that all of us are created equal and that we're endowed, not by any bunch of politicians or philosophers, but by our creator with those inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

liebermanAt the beginning of our history, that promise, that ideal, was not realized or experienced by all Americans. But over time since then we have—we have extended the orbit of that promise. And in our time at the frontier of that effort is extending those kinds of rights to gay and lesbian Americans who are citizens of this country and children of the same awesome god, just as much as any of the rest of us are.

That's why I have been an original co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which aims to prevent gay and lesbian Americans who are otherwise qualified from being discriminated against in a workplace. And I've sponsored other pieces of legislation and other— taken other actions that carry out that ideal.

The question you pose is a difficult one, for this reason: It confronts or challenges the traditional notion of marriage as being limited to a heterosexual couple, which I support.

But I must say, I'm thinking about this because I have friends who are in gay and lesbian partnerships who have said to me, "Isn't it unfair that we don't have similar legal rights to inheritance, to visitation when one of the partners is ill, to health care benefits?" And that's why I'm thinking about it. And my mind is open to taking some action that will address those elements of unfairness while respecting the traditional religious and civil institution of marriage.

SHAW: Mr. Secretary?

CHENEY: This is a tough one, Bernie. The fact of the matter is, we live in a free society and freedom means freedom for everybody. We don't get to choose, and shouldn't be able to choose, and say, "You get to live free, but you don't."

And 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.

cheneyThe next step then, of course, is the question you asked of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction, if you will, of the relationship or if these relationships should be treated the same way a conventional marriage is. That's a tougher problem. That's not a slam dunk.

I think the fact of the matter, of course, is that matter is regulated by the states. I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.

I try to be open-minded about it as much as I can and tolerant of those relationships.

And like Joe, I also wrestle with the extent to which there ought to be legal sanction of those relationships. I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.

SHAW: It occurs to me that your moderator has committed a booboo. I asked the racial profiling question of you; you [Lieberman] responded. And then I asked the sexual orientation question of you [Lieberman]. I should not have done that in terms of rotation. Gentlemen, I apologize.

LIEBERMAN: We forgive you.

(LAUGHTER)

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