Howard Dean’s vote for incest

By Les Kinsolving

Last February, during the New Hampshire Primary, during a news conference at St. Paul’s School, Concord, I was able to ask Democratic presidential candidate and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich:

“Do you support giving legal marriage to all sexual orientations?

“Yes,” he replied – to five of us who were reporters. But none of the other four reported this undeniable news.

Now that the U.S. Senate has just voted down the marriage amendment – with both of Maryland’s senators, Barbara Mikulski (who is currently running for re-election) and Paul Sarbanes voting against this protection of traditional marriage of one man and one woman – there is further news of the bizarre world these two have helped to open. I was first alerted to this on July 21, the same day that the Democratic National Convention announced that Vermont’s former Gov. Howard Dean would be a principal speaker in Boston. National Review on-line headlined its report: HOWARD DEAN’S INCEST VOTE.

“Howard Dean – for all intents and purposes ? excited the Democratic primaries with his famous scream. But it would have been the voters who’d screamed had they known about a vote buried in Dean’s lefty Vermont past ? in favor of incest. Yes, in favor of incest.

“The Kerry campaign is even now considering what prominence to give Dean at next week’s convention. Dean, of course, has an intense following among the Democratic base, but he runs counter to the careful image of political and social moderation Kerry is attempting to project with all his might. How counter? Consider his incest vote.

“In 1983, a Vermont legislator named Elizabeth Edwards introduced a bill to allow a 65-year-old woman to marry her 86-year-old maternal uncle, despite incest laws banning the match. Edwards, a Republican (only in Vermont, kids!), figured that incest laws were primarily about preventing defective offspring, and her neighbors Ramona Crane and Harold Forbes were too old to bear children. ‘They’re a super-neat couple who don’t have any money, and they just have each other, and I think they should be able to get married if they want to,’ Edwards told United Press International for a Feb. 23, 1983, story.

“The bill passed the state House 73-67 with Howard Dean, who was elected to the legislature in 1982, voting for the exemption from the incest laws. The bill went on to the Senate, where it met a firm rebuke. A Senate committee voted 5-0 not to take up the measure. The committee’s chairman, Republican Allen Avery, explained, ‘It’s setting a bad precedent. Once you do it for the Forbeses, you have to do it for others. There certainly is not any support among members of the Senate to deal with it.’

“In short, Dean was on the left-most fringe of this question even in liberal Vermont.

“The couple in question went to Canada to get married by a Universalist minister, but Canadian officials – even they were more conservative than Dean – quickly explained that their laws also prevented the union. ‘If it isn’t legal anywhere, what good is it?’ Ramona complained.

“Well, it would have been legal in Vermont had Howard Dean gotten his way. That’s just one data point the Kerry campaign will doubtless want to consider in its calculations about what role to give the controversial former Democratic governor next week.”

In Montpelier, Vermont’s capital city, I was able to reach former legislator Elizabeth Edwards, who is now Elizabeth McLain, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources under Republican Gov. James Douglas.

Secretary McLain verified the UPI report, and she commented: “In Vermont we tend to know our neighbors. They’ve both died. But she had produced an obstetrician’s certificate that she was not able conceive or bear children. And they were my neighbors and wanted so much to get married.”

Secretary McLain was so thoroughly courteous and affable – and mentioned that both she and her secretary were listeners to my daily commentaries on WVMT in Burlington – that I failed to ask what if her now-deceased neighbors had been sisters who wanted to get married. Or what if they had been polygamists?

At the Howard Dean headquarters, now entitled “Democracy for America,” Dean press secretary Laura Gross said she was not aware of the reported Dean incest vote, but would inquire and get back to me – which she did not do.

In Fairlee, Vt., former Sen. Avery was not available for comment.