Howard Dean Switches on Gay Marriage

By Teddy Davis

May 12, 2009 2:58pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis reports: Former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean discussed his evolution on gay marriage Tuesday, telling ABC News’ "Top Line" that he would have signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Vermont if he had still been governor. The bill became law on April 7 when the state’s Democratic Legislature overrode the veto of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas. "Sure," said Dean when asked if he would have signed the same-sex marriage bill. "Look, things have changed. There were a lot of things I didn’t know. I was the first in the nation. I believe that equal right under the law is for everyone. Each state has the right to make up its mind about how they want to do equal rights under the law. We chose civil unions because we were the first state in the country. Marriage never would have passed. Even I wasn’t really ready for that." "But I thought the people of Vermont would get used to civil unions and they did," he added. "Now they want to move on." Dean has always believed that the definition of marriage should remain in the hands of the 50 states. However, as recently as a March 2 interview with ABC News, he described himself as someone who does "not have a problem" with a state adopting same-sex marriage rather than as a supporter of allowing gays and lesbians to marry. The former chairman of the Democratic National Committee would not say whether President Obama, who favors limiting a marriage to one man and one woman, would endorse same-sex marriage before he runs for re-election in 2012. Dean did say, however, that the ground seems to be shifting on this issue for both Democrats and Republicans. "This is changing," said Dean. "You know, gay people are seen as people first and then as gay or lesbian later, that’s the way it should be. The same as African Americans. The same as Hispanics. The same as everybody who is a member of a minority group. We have to see our humanity first and then whatever category we fall into afterward." Dean, a medical doctor, also used his appearance on ABC News’ "Top Line" to offer his party advice on how to pay for health-care reform. He said Democrats should pursue an energy tax to "serve two masters": reduce global warming while guaranteeing health-care coverage to every American, including the estimated 50 million who are currently uninsured.  "I think you ought to do a carbon tax," said Dean. "I think most people in this country would be happy to pay an increase in 10 cents to the gas tax if they knew they’d have health insurance no matter what happened." Dean is wary about the prospect of limiting the tax exclusion for employer-provided health benefits, an idea which has been put on the table by Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "I’m not big on just taxing gold-plated anything for the sake of taxing gold-plated people," said Dean. "I actually think that this probably won’t work. That the president got it right when he was on the campaign trail. And my guess is that this won’t pass. It has to be discussed. It’s one of the options, the Republicans like it." "But look," he added, "the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Baucus, is looking at lots of different things." To watch the full interview with Dean, click here. Also, per usual on Tuesdays, Republican strategist Kevin Madden spoke with ABC News’ "Top Line." Today’s talk with Madden focused on Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) entering the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez. Watch the talk with Madden here.  ABC News’ Elizabeth Gorman contributed to this report.

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