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McCain on Gay Rights and Abortion McCain on Gay Rights and Abortion

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McCain on Gay Rights and Abortion

Specific Policy Positions

Same-sex marriage Opposes same-sex marriage. Did not support Republican efforts to pass the federal marriage amendment to the Constitution that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but says that federal action may later be necessary. Supported a 2006 ballot amendment in Arizona banning same-sex marriage and favors the upcoming initiative in California that would amend the state's constitution to limit marriage to heterosexual couples.

"Don't ask, don't tell" Supports the current policy prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Says he has consulted with military leaders who say that the policy is working.


Discrimination/hate crimes Opposes federal legislation banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians, and has voted against expanding the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation.

Roe v. Wade Believes that the 1973 Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights nationally should be overturned and control of the issue returned to the states. Cites Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito as the kind of jurists he would appoint, because they understand that the Court "should not be in the business of legislating from the bench." Would support statewide abortion bans such as the 2006 South Dakota law but insists that states provide an exception in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the life of the pregnant woman.

"Partial-birth" abortion Has consistently opposed "partial-birth" abortion in all cases.


Unwanted pregnancies/birth control The father of an adopted child, he has been a strong supporter of adoption. Favors tax deductions for adoption expenses and prohibiting discrimination against families with adopted children. Opposes gay couples adopting.

Key Advisers

Viewed skeptically by social conservatives and the Religious Right, McCain and his advisers have an especially big task ahead of them. Longtime Republican political operative Bob Heckman is among those reaching out to social conservatives. Heckman worked as the national political director of Gary Bauer's 2000 presidential bid. Bauer, who says he has no formal role with the campaign but serves as an adviser, was one of the first evangelical leaders to support McCain. Another adviser focusing on social conservatives is Marlys Popma, the former president of Iowa Right to Life. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a strong advocate of family values, is a national co-chair of the McCain campaign and also co-chairs the candidate's Judicial Advisory Committee. Social conservatives and anti-abortion advocates have strong ties to several McCain supporters on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.


Hate crimes: In 2000, voted against an amendment by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to enhance federal enforcement of hate crimes and expand the definition to include sexual orientation. Also opposed similar bills in 2002 and 2004 but was not present for a vote in 2007 to broaden the definition of hate crimes.

Family planning/abortion: Voted against a 2005 amendment that would have eased parts of the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars U.S. funds from going to international nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion services or counseling. Has opposed federal funding of abortion domestically. Voted against a 2003 amendment that would have required health insurance companies to cover prescriptions for birth control.


Parental notification: In 2006, voted for the Child Custody Protection Act making it a crime to take a minor across state lines for an abortion without parental consent.

Key Interest Groups

Focus on the Family: This Colorado-based group is headed by James Dobson, a doctor and highly influential evangelical leader. Dobson made headlines in June by attacking Obama for "deliberately distorting" the Bible.

Family Research Council: A media-savvy group headed by Tony Perkins, the Washington-based council supported the federal marriage amendment in 2006 and criticized the California Supreme Court's decision striking down the state's same-sex marriage ban. The organization's political arm, FRC Action, backs McCain.

National Right to Life Committee: A leading anti-abortion advocacy group in Washington, the committee is a federation with 50 state affiliates; it was founded in response to Roe v. Wade. The organization also engages in campaign politics through its political action committee, which supports McCain.

National Organization for Marriage: Maggie Gallagher, who also heads the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, a think tank, is president of this new 501(c)(4) advocacy group, which will be heavily involved in ballot initiatives in California and Florida.

This article appears in the July 19, 2008 edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.

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