Posted on October 21, 2004
Can what Edwards says be right?
Right now, millions of faithful American husbands and wives are unwittingly fornicating. At least if what John Edwards is telling us is true, that is.
In his vice presidential debate with Dick Cheney, Sen. Edwards opposed the passage of a marriage amendment, based on the premise that no state can be forced to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. He believes that is so, because he thinks that all marriages end at the state line.
"Under the law of this country for the last 200 years, no state has been required to recognize another state's marriage," he said. "Let me just be simple about this. My state of North Carolina would not be required to recognize a marriage from Massachusetts."
Assuming this is true, it must also be true in the reverse, that Edwards is not necessarily married any longer, once he leaves the state of North Carolina. Come to think of it, this would also mean that newlyweds who travel to another state for their honeymoon technically have to return home before they can consummate their marriage.
Perhaps this is just what a Democrat politician without a scandalous personal life says in order to spice up his resume. Now, when Edwards is on the campaign trail, he can claim to be cheating on his marriage -- albeit with the same woman who, in North Carolina, is his wife.
Just think of the "reality show" potential there. A happily married husband and wife from Pennsylvania could spend one episode naughtily driving to a motel in Ohio. The next week, two couples could swap partners once they've crossed the state line, then switch back on the way home. Thousands of viewers could vote in a weekly online poll to determine whether or not the participants in the show had cheated. The day after the show aired, bosses across America would have to remove all sharp objects from the break room, in anticipation of the ensuing arguments.
This gaffe of Edwards' would be easy to laugh off if it were an isolated incident, but it's not. He had already pronounced his misunderstanding of marriage laws in two Democrat primary debates. In the January 22nd debate at St. Anselm College, he said he would have voted against the Defense of Marriage Act.
"I think these are decisions that the states should have the power to make," he explained, "and the Defense of Marriage Act would have taken away that power, and I think that's wrong. That power should not be taken away from the states."
Not only did Edwards not understand what DOMA says when he made this statement, but he did not even seem to be aware that President Clinton had signed the bill into law. It makes no sense to speculate about what a piece of legislation "would have" done when it is already the law of the land.
In the February 26th debate at USC, Sen. Edwards revised his position, but continued to get it wrong. "The Defense of Marriage Act specifically said that the federal government is not required to recognize same-sex marriage even if a state chooses to do so," he said. "I disagree with that. I think states should be allowed to make that decision, and the federal government shouldn't do it. The part I agree with is the states should not be required to recognize marriages from other states. That's already in the law, by the way, without DOMA. The law today does not require one state to recognize the marriage of another state." Granted, Edwards hasn't been in the Senate very long, but he still should know better than to believe that the slogan "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" is codified into federal law.
What DOMA does specifically say is that, "No state, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe" is forced to recognize the same-sex marriage law of another state, territory, possession or tribe. It does not give the federal government the power to override any state's decision about it. There was not already a law stating this, as Edwards claims, but even if there had been, there'd be no reason for him to oppose another law saying exactly the same thing.
Article IV Section 1 of the Constitution says, "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof." In passing DOMA, Congress prescribed, by general law, the manner in which a marriage license shall be proved. If the Supreme Court does not allow Congress to write that prescription to the exclusion of same-sex marriage, then every state must give full faith and credit to one state's same-sex marriage law.
There is no existing similar law that allows one state to deny another state's traditional marriage. John Edwards -- who is a lawyer, a senator, and possibly our next vice president -- has now repeated this same, fundamental misunderstanding of the law in three different debates.
If our hypothetical couple from Pennsylvania were to pack up and move to Ohio, they would not have to apply for a new marriage license. They'd already be married in Ohio, just as they would be in any of the remaining 48 states. The way that Edwards explains it, though, relocating across state lines is just an easy way of obtaining a no-fault divorce. If it worked that way, then a man who had wives in two different states would not legally be a bigamist.
If a young Republican vice presidential candidate -- like Dan Quayle in '88 -- had characterized marriage as being legally not much different from a fishing license, he'd never be allowed to forget it. If Quayle had suggested that he's not necessarily married outside of Indiana, you'd see him ridiculed for it every day, in newspaper columns, on sitcoms, and in late-night monologues. Reporters would even wonder aloud what he was really up to whenever he traveled to another state on a (wink, wink) "golf outing."
But when Democrat John Edwards makes that kind of a goof, there's so little media scrutiny that he is able to repeat the strange statement twice more with no apparent consequence. If nobody else is going to hold him accountable, one would hope, at least, that Mrs. Edwards would.
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