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'Freedom for Everyone'

Wednesday, August 25, 2004; Page A16

GOOD FOR Vice President Cheney. At a campaign breakfast in Iowa yesterday, Mr. Cheney was asked about his position on gay marriage. Noting that "Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with," Mr. Cheney said, "My general view is freedom means freedom for everyone. . . . People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to." The question of whether that relationship should be given the status of marriage, Mr. Cheney, said, is "a matter for the states to decide."

On one level, Mr. Cheney's statements aren't surprising. After all, he said as much during the campaign four years ago. And as Mr. Cheney noted, "the fundamental decision of what constitutes a marriage" has historically been left up to states. But since Mr. Cheney's last public comments, President Bush has asserted that it is imperative that the Constitution be amended to ensure that states don't recognize gay marriages. In that sense, Mr. Cheney's public break with the president's position is remarkable -- and refreshing in an administration not known for its tolerance of public dissent. "The president makes policy for the administration," Mr. Cheney said, but he didn't try to disguise the fact that he disagreed with Mr. Bush on this one.

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We think Mr. Cheney has it right on the merits, too. The president contends that the country must take the momentous step of amending the Constitution to protect traditional marriage. A federal law already on the books, the Defense of Marriage Act, isn't safeguard enough, Mr. Bush says, because the law, which protects states from having to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state, could "be struck down by activist courts." But as Mr. Cheney noted yesterday, "most states have addressed this" -- most by means of statutes defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Meantime, the Defense of Marriage Act "has not been successfully challenged in the courts and may be sufficient to resolve the issue." In other words, the rush to enshrine discrimination in the Constitution is precipitous.

It's also wrong. "Freedom for everyone," as Mr. Cheney so nicely put it, should mean freedom for men and women, no matter their sexual orientation, to share in the protections, benefits and responsibilities that only marriage can convey.

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