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What Lies Ahead In The Same-Sex Marriage Debate


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Gay rights advocates argue that last week's election marks a decisive turning point in public opinion and should send a powerful message to both legislatures and courts on same-sex marriage. Opponents vow to continue the fight on all fronts and point out their record on ballot measures still stands at better than 30 to four.

At this point, most of the states have decided on gay marriage, one way or the other: after a new law; after a referendum; or after a court ruling. If you live in a state where this issue has been decided either way, how did things change afterwards? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, we'll hear from a school board member in Dover, New Hampshire, who proposed a ban on high school football. But first, what's changed on same-sex marriage? Brian Brown is president of the National Organization for Marriage. He's with us here in Studio 3A. Nice of you to join us.

BRIAN BROWN: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Also with us in the studio, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, who had a great night last Tuesday, and thanks to you, as well.

CHAD GRIFFIN: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And as you know, your opponents argue that what changed last week was that the votes were held in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington, four of the bluer states in the country.

GRIFFIN: You know, on Tuesday it really was a landslide for equality. If you look at these four states, they are diverse states with diverse populations. They are states with heavy Catholic populations. And we won all of them. We won all four. Our opposition actually put three of these on the ballot themselves, and...

CONAN: After legislatures had passed laws.

GRIFFIN: Two of those, yes, and in Minnesota they put forward a hateful anti-gay marriage ban in that state, as well, and there they also lost. So it really was a clean sweep across the country, and it really shows how fair-minded Americans of all stripes and all partisan affiliations really have come down on the side of freedom, liberty and equality.

CONAN: What changed after what you have to admit was a long losing streak?

GRIFFIN: Well, it absolutely was. Look, our opposition has had one advantage, and it's always been fighting this at the ballot box, where they could fight this out in political campaigns, in television ads and who raises money and who has the best ads. But they were losing in the courts and in state legislatures, increasingly, across the country.

We finally took away that advantage they had by having these victories in these four states, and we saw incredible coalitions. Here in Maryland, for instances, there was a phenomenal partnership with the NAACP in that state. You saw partnerships with Catholics for Marriage Equality. You really saw grassroots efforts driving these campaigns.

And I know that our - the anti-gay right was disappointed that they lost these, but I suspect this will be the first of many losses and many victories, now, in the forefront for equality and freedom in this country.

CONAN: Brian Brown, has the dam broken?

BROWN: No, the dam's not broken. I mean, the reality is that you can just look at the demographics and look at the voting patterns of these states, and these are the deepest of deep blue states. And even there, proponents of redefining marriage were only able to eke out relatively small victories. We're talking four points at the most.

And if you look at these states, and you look at how marriage performed, even after we were outspent by $23 million, outspent by more than 3.5 to one, we did not have the resources to get our message out there, we outperformed the Republican presidential candidate by over six points, on average, in Maryland by 12 points.

So anyone who wants to say somehow supporting traditional marriage is a losing issue just has their facts wrong. And the reality is that it was only a few short months ago where North Carolina voted overwhelmingly, by 61 percent, to put a constitutional amendment together that protects marriage as the union of a man and a woman. That just happened a few short months ago.

So I think it speaks a lot more to these - the uniqueness of these states. And if we had the ability to have the resources necessary, you saw the polls were moving, we weren't able to get over the finish line, but I think this is going to be a wakeup call. I think a lot of people thought because we'd won so many fights and had this string of wins that we wouldn't need the same resources. We did, we didn't have them, and I think we've learned a lesson for the future.

CONAN: So you blame complacency, but doesn't the ability to raise funds and mobilize your troops, those are important on Election Day.

BROWN: Oh, those are very important. I think that this was a wakeup call. Again, we've been able to win these fights being greatly outspent. We were greatly outspent in North Carolina, won by 61 percent. These were different states. So that's a reality. These were different states.

The other reality was there was - this was sort of an Obama wave. I think a lot of people are looking up and saying I cannot believe the turnout. That turnout did help those that wanted to redefine marriage. But still, there was no fundamental change in the sense that African-Americans in Maryland, for example, still more opposed redefining marriage.

CONAN: Barely.

BROWN: Yeah, it wasn't as much as in other states, so there was some effect. But still the majority still supported traditional marriage.

CONAN: As you look at these results, and we want to move ahead and talk about where both of your efforts will be going later, but as you look at the results, North Carolina is a signal lesson, shouldn't it be, Chad Griffin?

GRIFFIN: Yeah, look, I think there's no question. There our opposition, the anti-gay right, their advantage was at the ballot box. You saw hateful lies that were very directly articulated to voters in their advertising campaigns. This time we were ready for those. This time, those lies were countered at the ballot box, and they lost.

They lost four times in these states, but it's important to note we also re-elected President Obama only months after he came out as the first president of the United States to support marriage equality. We also elected our first openly gay United States senator in Tammy Baldwin. We also won something that's not often talked about but was a priority for our opposition.

In 2008, after the Iowa Supreme Court, in that historic decision, gave us marriage equality in Iowa, our opposition spent a million dollars and campaigned heavily and were able to defeat three of those judges that were on the ballot. This time the fourth was on the ballot, Justice Wiggins. Our opposition put in incredible resources in that state, campaigned in that state, had high-profile right-wing leaders across the state campaigning for that, and yet again, we won there.

So it's not just one victory. It's not four victories. It really is a clean sweep from coast to coast. And I think it's inarguable that this is a turning point in this country. This is a turning point just as we've seen in other civil rights movements, and we are on a fast march towards full equality and inclusion under the law.

CONAN: And Brian Brown, Iowa, he's right, and Iowa can't be described as a blue state but rather a swing state, won by President Obama. But more broadly to the point, as you look at the public opinion polls, they show increasing support across the country for marriage equality.

BROWN: Well, no, this is a meme that's put out there time and time again. Again, if you just want to look at this based on good science and evidence, if we outperformed Governor Romney by six percent, over six percent in these states, and you take that and overlay it across the nation, had we had a vote, a national referendum, we would have won by 55 percent.

That comports with our exit polling, which shows 58 percent opposition to same-sex marriage. We did a poll in September, 60 percent opposition to same-sex marriage. And, you know, actions speak louder than words. The fact is that the Human Rights Campaign, by continuing this sort of incendiary rhetoric that it's simply hateful to believe that marriage is a union of a man and a woman, that doesn't - that is not a winning argument.

And that's not the argument that was made in these states. For example, in Minnesota, which was - which still there is no same-sex marriage in Minnesota...

CONAN: No, but the ban, the proposed constitutional ban was defeated.

BROWN: But again, the statutes in Minnesota, marriage is still the union of a man and a woman in Minnesota. And one of the arguments put forward by our opponents - these were very smart arguments, by the way - but the argument that was put forward was by voting against this, you're not going to have gay marriage in Minnesota.

And now they're sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place because in the beginning they argued, well, these should never - this issue should never be put to the voters. And they won a few votes at the ballot box. And now they're saying, well, we don't want to go back in this direction because, for example in Ohio, there is a movement to put same-sex marriage on the ballot on a constitutional amendment.

The Human Rights Campaign and other groups oppose that. They don't want it to go to the ballot. That's because they know that this didn't change the dynamic, we will win in Ohio, and what we're going to have right now is a state-by-state fight. I think that the election results, if anything, make it less likely that somehow the Supreme Court is going to now step in and by fiat create a Roe versus Wade on marriage.

What I mean is, there is the Perry case before the Supreme Court. I think they're going to take the case. And they're going to find there is not a constitutional right to redefine marriage and that the states, as has happened, the states will decide this.

CONAN: Let me turn back to you, Chad Griffin, and you're right, I think Iowa was a signal victory, and Iowa should send a signal to courts around the country, as well, that - and legislatures that - to necessarily support one side or the other does not necessarily mean you're going to be defeated at the polls, that you also do have allies.

But as you look towards the future, is this going to be a ballot measure fight, as we're talking about places like Ohio to go back and change the Constitution again, or is this going to be a court fight?

GRIFFIN: I think you're going to see momentum on all fronts continue. You're going to see consistent I believe victories at the state level and at the federal level as it relates to our court system. There are a historic number of cases pending before the United States Supreme Court right now. By the way, all victories on the side of equality, and many of them were lower court decisions that came about by Republican-appointed judges.

So it's my belief that the Supreme Court will take one or more of the cases that are before them, and I believe if they do, they will go in the direction of freedom and equality just as they have so many times in the past. That court has a choice. They can go a path of Plessey v. Ferguson, or they can go a path of Brown v. Board.

And I believe that this court knows where history is headed and where we're headed as a country on this important issue. And I do believe we will also have a series of legislative and perhaps ballot victories in the future as we look forward to our future successes.

CONAN: Just to clarify, the Supreme Court I think is expected to take up the Proposition 8 case in California, and then also may take up the case about the federal DOMA act, the Defense of Marriage Act. Neither of those - well, the first one might, as people say, if they decide in favor of the lower courts, reinstate gay marriage in California but maybe not elsewhere. And if they strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, that would not mean, necessarily, that it would overturn state laws.

GRIFFIN: That's correct. It would simply be a step. If DOMA - DOMA's going to - DOMA is on its way to the dustbin of history here, there is no question. And I believe, ultimately, the courts will take one or more of the DOMA cases, and that would mean that states that have marriage equality, it will then be recognized by the federal government.

But we don't know which cases that court's going to take. There are currently seven pending before the court. But if in fact they don't take the Prop 8 case, marriage would start within days in California. If they do take the Prop 8 case, that decision would likely be rendered by the middle of June.

CONAN: All right, we got this email from Kent in Massachusetts: I didn't notice any change. It seems quiet. The sky didn't fall. Our divorce rate is still among the lowest in the country. We want to hear what happened in your state after a decision was made, one way or another, on same-sex marriage, whether that was by a court order, as it was in Iowa, or whether it was a state legislature, as it was in New York, or whether it was by a vote on a constitutional amendment, as in more than 30 places around the country, or by votes in three states last Tuesday that will now allow gay marriage, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. In the majority of the United States, state law or constitutional provisions define marriage as between a man and a woman. Most of them have adopted defense of marriage language mirroring that found in the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In nine states and the District of Columbia, same-sex marriage is allowed, though the ones that passed it just last Tuesday, it'll take a couple of more weeks before they can offer licenses. If you live in a state where this issue has been decided either way, how did things change afterwards? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also find us on Twitter, @totn.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign; and Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, are our guests. And let's see if we can get a caller in, and this is Penny(ph) and Penny on the line with us from Buffalo.


CONAN: Hi Penny.

PENNY: So New York state passed gay marriage about a year and a half ago. We did it through the state legislature, so there was no direct vote by the voters. And it passed. So what ended up happening was generally things didn't change, but one of the senators, a local state senator who was Republican, who switched his vote very publicly from against to for, was suddenly attacked with billboards and advertisements, a lot of them, to try to have him, you know, recalled for the 2012 election.

And I don't know if it was in spite of his support of gay marriage or because of his support of gay marriage, but he ended up being re-elected anyway. So I think it's - Buffalo tends - western, north tends to be a little bit more Republican than the rest of the state, but I think it's a slow, gradual change and very publicly where this man, this senator stood up and said, you know, changed his vote.

And not only - he ended up being reelected, despite all the attacks against him. So that was - I think the most public thing in New York state was seeing some of those state senators, despite smear campaigns on the right, being reelected.

CONAN: Penny, thank you.

BROWN: Well, it isn't a smear campaign to hold accountable elected officials who decide to betray the voter. Many of these Republican officials had said that they were going to support traditional marriage, and when money and favors were brought out, they decided to switch their vote.

Now, it is simply untrue that there wasn't an effect in New York. There were seven senators that switched their votes. We were involved in those elections. And of those seven, five lost their seats. One of them was Republican Roy McDonald. We endorsed a primary challenge, and for the first time in New York state history for 32 years, an incumbent Republican senator was defeated.

Everyone agrees that the reason Roy McDonald was defeated was because he supported redefining marriage. So in the middle of these ballot initiative campaigns, we have very clear evidence that it does not, in fact, advance your political career to betray the voters and to change your vote and support same-sex marriage.

CONAN: Well, I wanted to ask Chad Griffin, one of the elements of any political campaign on any subject is to reward your friends and punish your enemies. Is the field evening in terms of resources and the ability to provide resources in this?

GRIFFIN: There is no question. You're seeing fair-minded people from across the board stand up on the side of marriage equality. And by the way, on the opposition, you're seeing an increasing number of people and organizations that are no longer willing to be on the side of the anti-gay right. So he is right, they are absolutely losing donors on their side, and on the side of marriage equality, you are seeing major corporations stand up. You are seeing Republicans and Democrats standing up together.

You are seeing business leaders like Jeff Bezos standing up and making significant contributions in Washington state. You are seeing prominent Republican donors like Paul Singer stand up and write checks across the board or people like Ken Mehlman or Mayor Bloomberg in New York all joining forces, perhaps disagreeing on who they favor for president or a particular Senate race but all coming together where we agree on equality and fighting together.

So there is no question the support is increasing both at the grassroots level as well as the donor base on the side of marriage equality, and in both they are shrinking on the side of anti-marriage equality.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Susan(ph), Susan with us from Augusta in Georgia.

SUSAN: Oh hi. I'm in a same-sex relationship, have been for a quarter of a century. In 2004, the state of Georgia passed an anti-same-sex marriage constitutional amendment defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman and I believe if I'm correct even forbidding civil unions. However, two weeks ago, my partner and I registered as domestic partners with her employer, and we now receive some benefits through her employer, which happens to be a state-supported employer, by the way.

And so there are things that are going on beneath the legislative level to show that change is taking place all over the country. I mean, Georgia is a very red state for the most part. But employers are finding out here that they can't get the talent they need to do various high-tech and professional jobs if they're not willing to offer benefits to same-sex couples.

So I think that the changes taking place, a lot of times the law is behind the culture.

GRIFFIN: There is no question of that. In fact, today the Human Rights Campaign released our corporate equality index, which works with and rates companies as it relates to their policies for their own employees and family members of those employees. And there is no question our companies are leading the way.

Corporate America is far ahead of our government. In fact, many of our corporations have fully inclusive nondiscrimination policies and provide equal benefits, partner benefits. So there is no question companies across this country, from the north to the south to the east to the west and everything in the middle are ahead and in many ways leading the way.

And in those places in particular, where we're not seeing marriage equality, I believe the caller was from Georgia, not a state that in the next weeks or months perhaps going to see marriage equality come through the ballot box, perhaps through the court systems. But she is right. Corporate America is standing up for their employees, and they are increasingly doing so with force.

CONAN: Susan, thanks very much for the call.

SUSAN: Thank you.

CONAN: And here's an email question from Marcus(ph) in Iowa: What will the National Organization for Marriage and associated groups do in the states that have enacted marriage equality? Will they try to challenge it?

BROWN: Well again, even the language of marriage equality, I mean, what do you mean? Is marriage unequal because you can't have three, four or five people? Marriage by its definition is the union of a man and a woman, and it's a great public...

CONAN: That's by your definition.

BROWN: No, that is a definition that's based in reality and nature. Marriage is about - why is the government at all involved in marriage? Because marriage is about connecting mothers and fathers with children and connecting children in love to those mothers and fathers.

CONAN: This is a long debate about issues...

BROWN: OK, but we need to get to it because if you're going to use the rhetoric of the side that wants to redefine marriage, we need to put our finger on it.

CONAN: As we sit in the District of Columbia, it's not the law here.

BROWN: That's not the law here, but throughout the country, the overwhelming majority of states understand that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that this is a great good. And the rhetoric of saying that those of us that believe that are somehow anti-gay or hateful or bigoted, it simply hasn't worked.

You had four victories in deep blue states. You were not able to convince the African-American community that somehow there is an analogy between the civil rights movement and redefining marriage. Again, majorities oppose same-sex marriage. And that is the reality. In places like Iowa, this is not a one-way street.

If folks in Iowa are able to regain a Senate and allow a vote, there can still be a vote in places like Iowa. In Maine, there was a vote in 2009, obviously, supporters of same-sex marriage said that they wanted to come back and have another vote. There can be another vote in a place like Maine once people start seeing the consequences.

And there are very real consequences. When you're telling Catholic adoption agencies that they can no longer adopt children because now it's discrimination because they will only place children with opposite-sex couples, if they don't place children with same-sex couples, that's now discrimination because of same-sex marriage, you have a profound religious - you're profoundly undermining religious liberty.

When you're teaching in the schools that parents are bigots because they believe and teach their children that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, that is a profound consequence. That's how things change in these states, and I have no doubt that we're going to see the sorts of things we saw in Vermont, when innkeepers are fined because they don't want to have a same-sex couple in their inn, we're going to see that in these states, and at that point will look up and say yeah, there are real consequences. And there can be more votes in these states.

CONAN: Chad Griffin, I have to ask that one of the arguments from your side in this is look at the example of places like Massachusetts and like Vermont, where this has been undergoing - underway for quite some time, and indeed the sky didn't fall.

GRIFFIN: Yeah, there's no question. I mean, you hear a lot of desperate spin from the opposition as equality and freedom continues to have victories across this country. But I do think it's important - we talk a lot of politics here, but at the end of the day, we fight this fight so that loving couples can have the same legal rights and recognition as their straight peers, as their straight family members. But we also fight this fight for the young person that's growing up in Arkansas today or in rural California, or anywhere in this country, that are taught day in and day out that they are second-class citizens, that they are less than.

GRIFFIN: Well, we've got to lift that discrimination in this country so that those young people can grow up with the same hopes, dreams and aspirations as their straight peers, friends and family members have. And that's why we've got to fight this fight, and that's why timing matters. The time at which we win this matters, because young people are suffering day in and day out.

CONAN: Let's get Will on the line. Will is with us from Nashville.

WILL: Hey. How are y'all?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

WILL: I just wanted to kind of make a point that I think, you know, we're going to have to see a shift in the Republican Party soon, because based on the data that I've seen in my own experiences in Arkansas - I chaired the Young Republicans at University of Arkansas for a year. And the year that I was in charge and the person before me and the person after me were all outspokenly in favor of marriage equality. So this isn't just something that, you know, is only big in blue states and big for Democrats. I think the young Republicans are really starting to come onboard with this because, you know, supporting marriage equality and supporting small government, people seem to think that those are mutually exclusive, but, in fact, I think they complement each other very well.

BROWN: This would be an absolute disaster for the Republican Party, and I don't think it's going to happen. I mean, it's a key part of the Republican Party platform that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. As I said, traditional marriage greatly outperformed Mitt Romney. There are key groups like the African-American community, like Latinos and others that we can reach out to.

And we've got a lot of work to do. If we're going to do it, the question is whether the civil rights of those of us that believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman are going to be respected or we're going to continue to see this rhetoric and the use of the law to punish, repress and marginalize the idea that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and really hurt individuals and organizations who stand up and proclaim the truth about marriage. If the truth about marriage is that it is union of a man and a woman, no state law is going to change that.

CONAN: Chad Griffin?

WILL: I don't think that that's the feeling amongst my generation of Republican Party. It might be the case for the current ruling generation. But I do think that in the next 10 or 15 years, that's - we're going to see a very strong shift.

GRIFFIN: Yeah, the caller makes a brilliant point here, because poll after poll shows that a majority of young people, a vast majority of young people support full equality under the law, including marriage equality. And that does not matter what their party affiliation is, what region of the country they live in or what religious affiliation or church they belong to. Young people simply can't fathom that adults are having this ridiculous argument.

They also see it as a top-three voter issue. They see it as a civil rights issue of their generation. They vote on this issue. And increasingly, they are voting against hate and discrimination when it happens in their own party. And I think we're starting to see the consequences of that, and that's why I think you see movement.

You saw a movement with the Democratic Party embracing marriage equality fully and completely. You did see a hateful Republican platform, but what you also saw was increased silence from the Republican side. You did not see the nominee - the presidential - Mitt Romney using this issue. You did not see him in the debates using this issue.

I think the leadership in the Republican Party get it, and I don't think we're too far off where we might someday just see two national parties having the same platform on this, and that is a platform that embraces freedom and equality. And the party that doesn't is going to be left in the dust.

CONAN: Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign. Also with us, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And here's an email we have from Lydia in Iowa: I attend a church in Iowa that is not in support of gay marriage and have been active in working to remove the judges that made the Supreme Court decision. Our church is not anti-gay, but follows the precepts of our belief. That being said, our concern was not the gay marriage was redefined, but that marriage was redefined - let me state that again - but that people were never given an opportunity to vote. An even greater concern which should be considered by people in the state of Iowa is that the Supreme Court justices have changed the law without going through a legislative process. According to the Constitution that I've read, legislators make law. Justices do not. We just want a vote or a bill.

And that raises the question a lot of people - looking back to the arguments about the abortion decision - say maybe we would have been better off, you know, Chad Griffin, had this been left to the legislative process, either in Congress or in the states, let voters have their say, their representatives have their say, as opposed to a court fiat, as there was in Iowa.

GRIFFIN: You know, there were certainly some that said that throughout the '50s and '60s in the civil rights movement then. That's not what this country was founded upon. This country was founded upon a principle of equal justice under the law for all of our citizens. And that's exactly why our courts are here, to protect the rights of a minority.

We do not, in this country, determine equal rights by a public vote of the majority. Now, it is an advantage that our opposition has used repeatedly, and finally we've taken that advantage away from them. But ultimately, at the end of the day, this is an issue that will be resolved by our courts, as it always has been in the tradition of Brown v. Board of Education or Loving v. Virginia in 1967. I expect we will see that continuum as we go forward in this movement. That's exactly why our courts exist.

BROWN: Chad is begging the question here. I mean, the question at stake is: Is there a civil right to redefine marriage? We say no. And again, a lot of it is rhetoric. I think the listeners can hear this, whether they agree with me or not. To call your opponents hateful, anti-gay, bigots, discriminating is not acceptable. It is not hateful or discrimination to say that marriage is something. It is the union of a man and a woman. It is a great and beautiful thing and that folks are willing to stand up for it.

It is not discrimination or hate to say, look, there's something wrong when a state changes its law and then punishes religious organizations who don't accept this new definition of marriage, punish individuals like that innkeeper in Vermont or like the Knights of Columbus who refuse to have a same-sex ceremony at their hall. These are profound implications - or punish parents by teaching in the public schools that folks who know marriage is the union of a man and a woman are bigots and are hateful. They use Chad's rhetoric about their own parents.

This is a sea change. This is not just - this is not about expanding rights. This is redefining the very nature of marriage, and this is an attack on the civil rights of those of us that believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman. We've already seen the consequences. I don't think that could be argued.

CONAN: We'll end with this email from Nikki in Kentucky: I live in a state where our constitution was amended several years ago to ban same-sex marriage. I work in family law. We've had to change the way we work with same-sex partners for everything from administrative laws, probate issues and especially adoption. It can be a special challenge for same-sex partners to deal with these sorts of issues in any state, even if just for the prejudice they face in day to day. But now that it's illegal for these persons to be married, we have to go out of our way to watch for special prohibitions written into our state laws that single out same-sex couples.

So there are arguments on both sides about discrimination and oppression, but we're not going to solve this argument today. But we thank both of you for joining us and talking about what has changed since last Tuesday. You just heard from Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage. Chad Griffin was also with us, president for the Human Rights - Human Rights Campaign. Forgive me. Thanks very much for being with us.

GRIFFIN: Thank you, Neal. Onward and upward.

BROWN: Thank you.

CONAN: When we come back, we're going to be speaking about a proposal to ban football at the high school level and the pushback that it's received. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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