In the Vice presidential debate which took place in Cleveland last Tuesday, George Bush’s deputy Dick Cheney refused to defend the administration’s policy on the same sex marriage amendment.

Cheney later appeared on stage with his family, including his lesbian daughter Mary and her partner.

The following is a transcript of part of the debate between Cheney and Democrat vice-presidential hopeful Senator John Edwards. The debate was moderated by PBS journalist Gwen Ifill.

Gwen Ifill Next question goes to you, Mr. Vice President. I want to read something you said four years ago at this very setting: Freedom means freedom for everybody. You said it again recently when you were asked about legalizing same-sex unions and you used your family as an experience your family experience as a context for your remarks. Can you describe, then your administration’s support for a constitutional ban on same-sex unions?

Vice President Cheney Gwen, you’re right. Four years ago in this debate the subject came up and I said then, and believe today, that freedom does mean freedom for everybody. People ought to be free to choose any arrangement they want. It’s really no one else’s business.

That’s a separate question from the issue of whether or not government should sanction or approve or give some sort of authorization, if you will, to these relationships. Traditionally, that’s been an issue for the states. States have regulated marriage, if you will. That would be my preference.

In effect what’s happened is that in recent months, especially in Massachusetts but also in California, but in Massachusetts we had the Massachusetts Supreme Court direct the State of the Legislature of Massachusetts to modify their constitution to allow gay marriage. And the fact is that the president felt that it was important to make it clear that that that’s the wrong way to go, as far as he’s concerned. Now, he sets policy for this administration and I support the president.

Gwen Ifill Senator Edwards, 90 seconds.

Senator Edwards Now as to this question, let me say, first, that I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And and you can’t have anything but respect for the fact that they’re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It’s a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.

And I I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and so does John Kerry. I also believe there should be partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples in long-term committed relationships. But we should not use the Constitution to divide this country. No state for the last 200 years has ever had to recognize another state’s marriage. This is using the Constitution as a political tool and it’s wrong.

Gwen Ifill New question but same subject. As the vice president mentioned, John Kerry comes from the state of Massachusetts, which has taken as big a step as any state in the union to legalize gay marriage. Yet both you and Senator Kerry say you oppose it. Are you trying to have it both ways?

Senator Edwards No. I think we’ve both said the same thing all along. We both believe that, this goes to the end of what I just talked about, we both believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. But we also believe that gay and lesbians and gay and lesbian couples, those who have been in long-term relationships deserve to be treated respectfully. They deserve to have benefits. For example, a gay couple now has a very difficult time one visiting the other when they’re in the hospital. Or, for example, if heaven forbid one of them were to pass away they have trouble even arranging the funeral. Those are not the kinds of things that John Kerry and I believe in. I suspect the vice president himself does not believe in that. But we do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

And I want to go back if I can to the question you just asked, which is this constitutional amendment. I want to make sure people understand that the president is proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that is completely unnecessary. Under the law of this country for the last 200 years no state has been required to recognize another state’s marriage. Let me just be simple about this. My state of North Carolina would not be required to recognize a marriage from Massachusetts, which you just asked about.

There is absolutely no purpose in the law and in reality for this amendment. It’s nothing but a political tool. And it’s being used in an effort to divide this country on an issue that we should not be dividing America on. We ought to be talking about issues like health care and jobs and what’s happening in Iraq. Not using an issue that divides this country in a way that’s solely for political purposes. It’s wrong.

Gwen Ifill Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds.

Vice President Cheney Well, Gwen, let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.

Senator Edwards You’re welcome.

Gwen Ifill That’s it?

Vice President Cheney That’s it.

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