Gay Marriage as Civil Right, a New Political Party

NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams talks about the week in politics with the Rev. Joseph Watkins, a conservative political consultant, and Ron Walters, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland. They discuss gay marriage as a civil-rights issue, and a new political party for the computer age.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

Now, on to Political Corner. Yesterday, the U.S. Senate rejected a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but the concept still has political momentum.

For more, we now turn to Juan Williams and his Washington Insiders. Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Thanks, Ed. We're joined now on Political Corner by Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Professor Walters' latest book is called Freedom is Not Enough. He joins us from NPR Studios in Washington. And Reverend Joseph Watkins, a member of the Government Relations Group at Buchanan Ingersoll. Reverend Watkins was a member of the first President Bush's White House staff. He joins us from NPR's bureau in New York. And today, I'm at NPR's bureau in Chicago.

Gentlemen, let's begin Political Corner by talking about same-sex marriage. The president, as you know, has been out urging an amendment to ban same sex marriage. It's not seen as having much of a chance of being approved. But on Tuesday, outside the Russell Senate Office Building, you saw black ministers standing next to the likes of Congresswoman Katherine Harris, next to Senator Wayne Allard, the Republican from Colorado, all condemning same-sex marriage.

Joe Watkins, is it being done out of a sincere feeling that this is, you know, a cultural moment when you have to say no to gay marriage?

Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS (Member, Government Relations Group at Buchanan Ingersoll): Well, it's even bigger than politics as you can see, because a lot of the ministers that may have been standing with Katherine Harris and various other well known Republican legislators may not classify themselves are Republicans. But they certainly agree with the Republican Party and with this president on this issue.

And it shows that the Republican Party has the ability to attract African-Americans who agree with them on a lot of the values issues. So this is a very, very strong signal. We saw this, of course, in some states back in 2004. During that election cycle you saw in Ohio and Florida and various other places, African-American ministers who may, in the past, not have aligned with the Democratic Party, aligning with the president and Republicans in that election because they agree with Republicans on that important issue.

WILLIAMS: Ron Walters, though, is this a dangerous sign, another dangerous signal for Democrats going into the mid-term elections?

Professor RON WALTERS (Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland): Not at all. This is an opportunity, at least, to turn the page, to divert the discussion, to change the mood of the American people to something else. When you look at the casualties continuing to amount in Iraq and other kinds of problems that Americans having, this is sort of a cynical ploy to change the politics and the mood of what people are talking about right now.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, let me take you into the White House press briefing room on Tuesday for an interesting exchange that took place between CBS News's Bill Plante and the new White House spokesman, Tony Snow. Tony Snow, in talking about the same-sex marriage amendment proposal, said it was the same thing - he equated it with the civil rights bills that were enacted in the 1960s. Bill Plante said you would say that that's the equal with civil rights, speaking about the union between a man and a man and woman and a woman.

And Tony Snow said, well, no, it's your question. And then he said he needed to get a more precise definition. Joe Watkins, is this being advanced as the same thing as African-Americans having their civil rights put into law?

Rev. WATKINS: As an African-American who certainly has benefited the hard work of so many people during the 1950s and 1960s to level the playing field in this country, I don't know that anything can equate with that. Every issue is what it is, and it's own issue.

This is an important one because, obviously, it has something to do with the way families look in this country going forward. It's not against anybody, but it's really more a statement for families, for the institution of marriage. And I grew up in a traditional family. I was so fortunate to have my mother and a father, and I still do.

And my parents raised me with the understanding that marriage is between a man and woman. That's not to say anything about contracts between people or other kinds of things. But it certainly does say that marriage, the institution as we know it and as we understand it, and certainly as the Bible has ordained it, is between a man and a woman.

WILLIAMS: All right, gentlemen, one last topic. This is such an interesting concept. What you had here is a proposition that there should be a unity campaign for the presidency for the White House in 2008, joining a Republican and a Democrat on the ticket to try to end the polarized politics in America. It's being advanced by Hamilton Jordan, who was an aide to former President Jimmy Carter, and Doug Bailey, who was an aide to former President Ronald Reagan.

What do you think of this? I mean, does it have any realistic chances? Is it a pipe dream, Ron Walters?

Prof. WALTERS: The question for me is, who will this hurt? Now, these two have concluded that there needs to be a union between Democrats and Republicans. And what they're going to try to do is to have an election by Internet where they have both a Republican and a Democrat on the ticket.

Now, that's extraordinary. Pipe dream, maybe, Juan, but it's going to be very difficult to pull off.

WILLIAMS: Joe Watkins, what do you think?

Rev. WATKINS: I think their intention is good, but I don't think that it's at all feasible. I don't think it can work. It's brand new, it's Internet-based. And that sounds maybe exciting to some people. But remember that if it is Internet-based it's going to knock out a whole segment of voters. Particularly, poor people - which is nearly a quarter of the American populous - who don't have access to the Internet. So those people wouldn't even be able to participate in this kind of a process.

So, to me, I don't think that it really has legs.

WILLIAMS: All right. Reverend Joseph Watkins, a member of the Government Relations Groups and Buchanan Ingersoll. He was a member of the first President Bush's White House staff and he joined us today from NPR's New York bureau. And in NPR's D.C. bureau, Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. The author of Freedom is Not Enough. And, as I say, he joined us from NPR D.C.

Back to you, Ed, from Chicago and NPR's bureau in the Windy City.

GORDON: Thanks, Juan. Don't forget to join us every Thursday for Juan Williams and Political Corner.

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