Blog ally Downtown Lad posted an insightful comment below on the comparison between Bush and Kerry when it came to gay rights as an issue in the last campaign that I wanted to bring out to the main board for discussion. As we were repeatedly told, and DL reiterates, Kerry was the choice on that issue because he was "less bad". I have maintained through the debate that there was no realistic difference between the two.
On a prima facie basis, Kerry does appear to have the better record when it comes to gay rights -- voting against DOMA, co-sponsoring ENDA, etc. -- while Bush has some notable bloopers, both his on-record support of Texas's notorious sodomy law and, of course, the FMA. Both men oppose gay marriage and to some degree support civil unions, although Kerry is obviously stronger on the last than Bush.
The issue that I had with Kerry was that Kerry, as his national aspirations increased, worsened his stance on gay issues, one of the most notorious examples being his support of Massachusetts's amendment to ban gay marriage after having signed a letter two years previous to oppose a similar amendment. In addition, during the campaign, Kerry took pains to compare his position on gay marriage to Bush, declaring repeatedly that his position was the same as Bush's. In addition, Kerry advocates for civil unions, a step which the Massachusetts Supreme Court called "unconstitutional, discriminatory, and maintain(ing) an inferior status for same-sex couples", and ironically, after his argument against DOMA accusing it of creating a "caste system".
The reason given for Kerry doing this was that he had to in order to be a "viable candidate". My first counter to that is that the people to which opposition to gay marriage was a major point were not going to vote for Kerry anyway.
The first reason I will give in making that counter is simply the fact that these people also hold strong stances on other issues, abortion being an excellent example, on which they are diametrically opposed to Kerry. The second is the relative lack of outcry from these same people over Bush's public support of civil unions when the FMA was put up, in August, and later in October (an excellent example of the antigay groups' typical responses in the last).
The second counter that I will give to the "viable candidate" argument is that I do not believe that the temper of the country is to constitutionally legitimize discrimination against gays at ANY level -- it simply is that the country is not ready to legally legitimize gay marriage yet. Kerry's support of banning gay marriage legitimized discrimination against gays as long as certain conditions were met -- basically, providing civil unions. My position is that civil unions in a state without a definition-of-marriage amendment are unconstitutional -- the same position argued by the Massachusetts Supreme Court -- for the same legal reasons that states cannot deny interracial marriages. The banning and replacement of marriage for gays with civil unions, then, is a blatant and cynical attempt to maintain a "separate but equal" status for gays while appearing to be progressive -- when both the US and state Supreme Courts have made strong overriding arguments that "separate but equal" is inherently wrong and unconstitutional.
The point is that I do not believe that Kerry "had to" oppose gay marriage publicly in order to be a viable candidate. I believe that, had Kerry publicly stated that he would not support constitutional amendments discriminating against gays at any level, regardless of whether or not civil unions were provided, there would have been little to no effect on his voting numbers. However, I do believe that his doing so would have made a significant difference in whether or not several states successfully passed these amendments. Therefore, in making the comparison between him and Bush, what is used in my mental calculus is that both of them made a crass antigay political calculation that was completely unnecessary in terms of changing their vote total -- and that Kerry's advocation of reversal and undermining of gay rights while publicly proclaiming his "progressivism" on the issue equals Bush's pointless support of an amendment which I honestly believe he knew had no chance of passing.