DEAN HAD TO DO IT
William Saletan and Ben Jacobs are now in the process of debunking “the bravest thing he ever did” stories on all the Democratic contenders. For Howard Dean, the myth is that he bravely fought for civil unions for homosexuals when in reality:
Dean had no choice but to accept such a bill. In December 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that Vermont was “constitutionally required to extend to same-sex couples the common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under Vermont law.” The court instructed the legislature to grant gays “inclusion within the marriage laws themselves or a parallel ‘domestic partnership’ or some equivalent statutory alternative.”
Given that choice, Dean took the more conservative option. According to the Associated Press, Vermont’s lieutenant governor and House speaker supported gay marriage, but Dean didn’t. Gay marriage “makes me uncomfortable, the same as anybody else,” Dean said at the time. He did encourage the legislature to pass a civil unions bill. But the alternative he averted was legalizing gay marriage, not preventing gay domestic partnerships.
Many supporters of the bill criticized Dean for signing it “in the closet,” in private and without a ceremony.
The reason Dean looks bold on this issue is that conservatives attacked him for supporting and signing the bill. In 2000, his Republican opponent accused him of threatening and bribing lawmakers to vote for the bill. Dean got so many threats that he had to wear a bulletproof vest. And the issue did sharply reduce his margin of victory.
While I’m not sure how this plays in Vermont or even with the Democratic nominating electorate (hint: there are primaries after New Hampshire), I find it ironic that he’s puffing up a story that would be harmful to him in a general election contest. His much more mainstream actual conduct would be much easier to sell in November 2004.