Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the replies of the leading Democratic presidential candidates to a question about the propriety of reading literature about same-sex marriage and homosexuality to second-graders.
TIM RUSSERT: I’d like to go to Allison King of New England Cable News again for another question.
KING: Thanks, Tim.
The issues surrounding gay rights have been hotly debated here in New England. For example, last year some parents of second-graders in Lexington, Massachusetts, were outraged to learn their children’s teacher had read a story about same-sex marriage, about a prince who marries another prince.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts but most of you oppose it. Would you be comfortable having this story read to your children as part of their school curriculum?
I’m going to start with Senator Edwards.
JOHN EDWARDS: Yes, absolutely.
What I want is I want my children to understand everything about the difficulties that gay and lesbian couples are faced with every day, the discrimination that they’re faced with every single day of their lives.
And I suspect my two younger children, Emma Claire, who’s 9, and Jack, who’s 7, will reach the same conclusion that my daughter Cate, who’s 25, has reached, which is she doesn’t understand why her dad is not in favor of same-sex marriage. And she says her generation will be the generation that brings about the great change in America on that issue.
So I don’t want to make that decision on behalf of my children. I want my children to be able to make that decision on behalf of themselves, and I want them to be exposed to all the information, even in – did you say second grade? Second grade might be a little tough, but even in second grade to be exposed to all …
KING: Well, that’s the point. It is second grade.
EDWARDS: … those possibilities, because I don’t want to impose my view. Nobody made me God. I don’t get to decide on behalf of my family or my children, as my wife, Elizabeth, has spoken her own mind on this issue. I don’t get to impose on them what it is that I believe is right.
But what I will do as president of the United States is I will lead an effort to make sure that the same benefits that are available to heterosexual couples – 1,100 roughly benefits in the federal government – are available to same-sex couples; that we get rid of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act; that we get rid of “don’t ask/don’t tell,” which is wrong today and was wrong when it was enacted back in the 1990s.
I will be the president that leads a serious effort to deal with the discrimination that exists today.
KING: Thank you.
Senator Obama, you have young children at home. How do you feel about this?
BARACK OBAMA: You know, I feel very similar to John. You know, the fact is my 9-year-old and my 6-year-old I think are already aware that there are same-sex couples. My wife and I have talked about it. One of the things I want to communicate to my children is not to be afraid of people who are different, because there have been times in our history where I was considered different, or Bill Richardson was considered different.
And one of the things I think the next president has to do is to stop fanning people’s fears. If we spend all our time feeding the American people fear and conflict and division, then they become fearful and conflicted and divided.
And if we feed them hope and we feed them reason and tolerance, then they will become tolerant and reasonable and hopeful.
And that, I think, is one of the most important things that the next president can do, is try to bring us together, and stop trying to fan the flames of division that have become so standard in our politics in Washington. That’s the kind of experience, by the way, that we need to put an end to.
KING: Quickly, have you sat down with your daughters to talk about same-sex marriage?
OBAMA: My wife has.
KING: She has. OK. I’d like to ask Senator Clinton the same question.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I really respect what both John and Barack said.
I think that we’ve seen differences used for divisive purposes, for political purposes in the last several elections. And I think every one of us on this stage are really personally opposed to that and we’ll do everything we can to prevent it.
With respect to your individual children, that is such a matter of parental discretion, I think that obviously it is better to try to work with your children, to help your children understand the many differences that are in the world and to really respect other people and the choices that other people make. And that goes far beyond sexual orientation.
So I think that this issue of gays and lesbians and their rights will remain an important one in our country. And I hope that – tomorrow we’re going to vote on the hate crimes bill, and I’m sure that those of us in the Senate will be there to vote for it.
We haven’t been able to get it passed, and it is an important measure to send a message that we stand against hatred and divisiveness.
And I think that, you know, that’s what the Democratic Party stands for in contrast, all too often, to the other side.
KING: Thank you, senator.
Tim, back to you.