Watching the vice presidential debate, you might have gotten the impression that Sarah Palin supports civil rights for same-sex couples. During an exchange on the topic, both she and Joe Biden said they oppose gay marriage. But Biden added that he and Barack Obama favor granting gay couples many of the same benefits—hospital visitation rights, health benefits—that married couples enjoy. Palin was tougher to pin down. She clearly didn't want to appear intolerant, but neither did she want to seem to embrace gay rights. "[N]o one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed …" she said.
The folks in Alaska might have been surprised to hear that. In the past, Palin has described her opposition to granting gay couples the benefits married couples receive. In an August 2007 interview with NEWSWEEK, Palin said she had upheld such benefits (angering fellow conservatives) but only because the state Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional to deny them:
NEWSWEEK : And do you have a position on that? Would you like to see it? Do you care? PALIN: I would vote to further define the definition of marriage as it pertains to benefits even—yes, I would.
That is, not extend benefits to same-sex couples?
Correct. And if it took an amendment to our constitution, I would go there …
The Alaska governor was careful not to say anything like that during the debate. Biden, sensing an opportunity, tried to force Palin into clarifying her position. "I'm glad to hear the governor … thinks there should be no civil-rights distinction … between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple. If that's the case, we really don't have a difference."
Moderator Gwen Ifill threw it back to Palin: "Is that what you said?" Palin dodged the question: "Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and is that I do not." A spokeswoman for the McCain campaign told NEWSWEEK that Palin opposes "all forms of discrimination against people with different lifestyles."