Republican presidential candidate John McCain stumbled over the issue of Proposition 22, the Knight Initiative, that would limit marriage to a man and a woman. When asked in San Diego Feb. 24 if he would vote for it, he first said no, then later yes.
"I understood the question to be as to whether I would vote to legalize gay marriage. I would not and I would vote for Prop 22," the Associated Press reported McCain as saying. "I'm not familiar with as many of the propositions here in California as perhaps I should be ... I will be well versed in all of those propositions as we go through the campaign."
Taking a position on this state matter was inconsistent with the principle he outlined in avoiding comment on whether or not the Confederate flag should continue to fly over the State Capitol in South Carolina. Perhaps the explanation could be found the next day in a headline on the front page of the Washington Post which read, "McCain's Policy Team: The Few, The Informal; Senator trusts his instincts most."
Texas Gov. George W. Bush has stated his opposition to gay marriage but declined to comment on state issues such as ballot measures. He took the same position on the Confederate flag in South Carolina.
Last year in an interview with the gay magazine The Advocate, when Vice President Al Gore was asked his position on the Initiative, he repeated his opposition to gay marriage and said he would have to study the ballot measure. He came out in opposition to it only after Sen. Bill Bradley announced such a position.
Gay organizations were quick to pounce on McCain's endorsement of Prop 22. They said that many leading Republican elected officials and candidates, included those on the stage with McCain, opposed the measure.
Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, called it "pander [ ing ] to the right wing." She warned McCain, "Brazen appeals to the more extreme elements in his party could lead to the alienation of moderate voters."
"We have a profound disagreement with Senator McCain on this issue," said Rich Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. "It appears that he is misinformed on Proposition 22. I think this was a mistake, not reflection of the kind of majority he wants to build. We hope he will address it further."
Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, noted that McCain is calling himself "a Ronald Reagan Republican." She made a historic comparison with Reagan's opposition to the Briggs Initiative in 1978. That measure would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Reagan's opposition was credited as a major factor in its defeat at the polls. Lobel said, "A real reformer would recognize the value of all families and fight to end discrimination."