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COLUMN

A Matter of Conviction

Chen Zhao

Now, I’m as much a loyal Democrat as the next person and I reflexively cringe when criticism is directed towards the party or a Democratic politician. I am also cynical enough to understand that politicians are among the most opportunistic people on the face of the planet and that only the most idealistic of us can truly believe that politicians stick to their principles all the time. However, on the issue of gay marriage, I believe that the Democratic candidates need to stop screwing around and take a firm position.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts recently ruled that bans on gay marriage are inherently unconstitutional. This decision has caused many ripples in the state and the country. Governor Mitt Romney said that he would work for a state constitutional amendment to overturn it. President George Bush said that he “will work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage.” Although I cannot in any way agree with these points of view, I have to say that George Bush and Mitt Romney may be completely off track, but at least they are taking a strong stance on this very important issue.

Of course, it is harder for the Democratic candidates to decide where they want to fall on this issue since polls have shown that most Americans are against gay marriage (for example, 59 percent according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and 61 percent in a CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll.) The Republicans can confidently stick with their conservative point of view, whereas if Democrats do the same thing, then they have to worry about offending the majority of Americans -- otherwise known as voters in the 2004 presidential election.

But, hey, life is tough and we all have to make decisions sometimes when we don’t want to. Yes, it would be easier for the candidates to just ignore the issue of gay marriage until after the presidential election, sort of like how Arnold Schwarzenegger told the media that he would not give the details about his groping numerous random women until after the California recall election. Arnold can hardly be considered the greatest political role model; this is the same guy who was quoted as saying, “I think that gay marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

Right after the court decision was announced, most of the Democratic candidates came out with somewhat contradictory statements saying that while they support legal rights for same-sex couples, they do not support gay marriage. When asked about a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, they voiced very strong opposition to such an idea. Of course, support for the amendment would result in nothing less than political suicide in the Democratic primary. In the general election, however, opposing the amendment would make them vulnerable to attacks from Republicans and the majority of the country.

I believe that I am hardly alone when I say the Democrats just come off sounding stupid by refusing to take a side. After all, when one tries to please everyone, one usually ends up pleasing no one.

Reverend Al Sharpton is one of the few Democratic candidates who openly support gay marriage. He says that he would happily perform a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple. Needless to say, Sharpton also has a slim to none chance of winning or even coming close to winning the Democratic nomination. So, he really has nothing to lose by taking a risk and speaking his mind.

While Sharpton may not be the ideal candidate, the other candidates definitely should follow suit when it comes to this thorny issue. It may be a risk now to openly support legal recognition of gay marriage, but, as history has shown us, society does progress. The majority of Americans may not be in favor of gay marriages now, but think of everything that the majority of Americans have been against in the past that are perfectly acceptable now. Just to name a few: integrated schools, women’s rights, saying the word “penis” on television, and string bikinis. In the near future, these candidates may very well have to retract their current opinions and appear to contradict themselves.

Look where being indecisive got John Kerry. In the wake of Sept. 11, he voted to allow President Bush to use force in Iraq. Later, after the war became a quagmire, he did not quite do a 180, but he definitely turned a good 150 degrees or so and decided that the war was unjustified. In an effort to convince anti-war Democrats that he could be their candidate, he voted against giving Bush the $87 million that he wanted. Instead of being viewed as a good anti-war Democrat, he came off as being fickle.

That is not what these candidates need right now. They need to simply stop evading the question and voice a definite opinion one way or another. After all, I believe that Americans want, or at least should want, politicians with firm convictions.