Palin, Biden agree on gay rights at debate

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Equal rights for gay couples, a divisive issue in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, produced a rare moment of agreement in Thursday’s vice presidential debate between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin.

Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) shake hands and smile at the end of their vice presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri October 2, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Rubenstein

In an otherwise contentious debate, both Biden and Palin said they did not support civil marriages for same-sex couples, but both backed a range of other legal protections.

“No one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed,” said Palin, referring to John McCain, her running mate in the November 4 election.

Such rights already exist in Alaska, where Palin serves as governor.

“In an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple,” said Biden, referring to his Democratic partner, Barack Obama.

Asked if he would support gay marriage, Biden said: “No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage.”

Palin was likewise succinct. “My answer is the same as his and it is that I do not,” she said.

Opposition to gay marriage was a factor in driving religious conservatives to the polls in 2004, helping President George W. Bush win re-election.

More than 25 states have constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage, many approved in ballot measures that year.

Massachusetts and California are the only U.S. states that allow same-sex marriage, though several states allow gay civil unions.

Reporting by Andy Sullivan, editing by Alan Elsner