Howard Dean and the gay marriage debate

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(Host) Former Governor Howard Dean keeps moving up in the polls, and commentator Cheryl Hanna considers why some recent legal rulings may help his bid for the presidency.

(Hanna) Truth be told, Howard Dean’s popularity has really caught some political pundits by surprise. Just a few months ago, lots of us know-it-all commentators and arm -chair analysts claimed that the good doctor hadn’t a chance.

And the biggest obstacle we thought, was civil unions.

We predicted that the nation would never accept a leader who believed all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, have the same rights as everyone else.

And Dean had done what few politicians had done before – he put his pen where his principles were and signed the nation’s first civil union bill, without apology.

Even those of us who supported Dean’s position could imagine the anti-Dean attack ads. Forget it, we mumbled. The rest of the country just isn’t ready.

But what a difference a summer makes. For a man who has never been particularly fond of lawyers, Dean owes at least some thanks to six justices on the United States Supreme Court. Last month, the Court struck down a Texas law that banned private and consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex. In a 6-3 opinion, the court held taht the Constitution guarantees each and every American the right to sexual privacy.

With the exception of some extremists, like TV Evangelist Pat Robertson, who has called for a “prayer offensive” against the Supreme Court, Americans accepted this decision, whether they agreed or not, with the same sense of resignation that we accepted the court’s controversial decision to end the 2000 election and effectively appoint George Bush to the White House.

We may be a nation of diverse opinions, but we definitely have respect for the rule of law.

What the Court did for Dean, I think, was at the very least neutralize his position on civil unions, if not enhance it. After all, Vermont’s law hardly seems radical when compared to the vast implications of Supreme Court’s decision, which most legal analysts agree paves the way for the legalization of gay marriage at the national level.

And any day now, the Massachusetts Supreme Court is likely to the first legalize gay marriage.

Remember: Dean never insisted that Vermont grant full marriage rights to same sex couples, making his position on civil unions seem moderate, if not conservative, in comparison.

If I were Dean, I’d capitalize on the decision these decisions.

If he continues to position himself as a leader who can guide the nation through this transition of what love and marriage mean in a democracy – a transition the Courts have mandated must continue – then the civil union issue isn’t his worst liability, but one of his stronger assets. But then again, I’ve been wrong before.

This is Cheryl Hanna.

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