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A remarkable event occurred at the vice-presidential debates in Danville, KY on the campus of Centre College. Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney (R-WY), and Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) were the principals at a live debate ON 2000-oct-5. The moderator asked Senator Lieberman the question: "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?

Senator Lieberman, a Democrat, mentioned that homosexuals "don't have similar legal rights to inheritance, to visitation when one of the partners is ill, to health care benefits. That's why I'm thinking about it. 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.

Secretary Cheney broke ranks with his party's platform, saying 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...The next step then, of course, is the question you ask 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 as a conventional marriage is. That's a tougher problem. That's not a slam dunk. I think the fact of the matter 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 wrestling 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."

Margorie Williams of the Washington Post commented: "Both Cheney and his Democratic counterpart, Joe Lieberman, gave answers strikingly more compassionate, more uncertain and thinking-out-loud, than they had in the past, marking a signal moment--a tipping point--in America's gradual acceptance of homosexuality.... And Cheney's was the more remarkable response, because it represented a far larger break with his party. It took several days for the anger of the Republican right to boil over at his apostasy... But it was already clear, or should have been, that Cheney's answer to that question was the biggest news of the vice presidential debate. George W. Bush's reassertion, during Wednesday's [OCT-11] presidential debate, of his party's hard line on a range of laws affecting gays and lesbians did nothing to change the symbolic importance of his running mate's answer."

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  1. Margorie Williams, "When Cheney broke ranks," Washington Post, 2000-OCT-13, Page A39. Online at: http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/ 
  2. V-P debate transcript at: http://www.debates.org/transcripts/textfiles/ 

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