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Six Democrats at Candidate Forum Wear Shades of Gray on Gay Marriage

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.cqpolitics.com/2007/08/six_democrats_at_candidate_for.html Six Democrats at Candidate Forum Wear Shades of Gray on Gay Marriage By CQ Staff |
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 10, 2007
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      http://www.cqpolitics.com/2007/08/six_democrats_at_candidate_for.html

      Six Democrats at Candidate Forum Wear Shades of Gray
      on Gay Marriage
      By CQ Staff | 1:56 AM; Aug. 10, 2007 |

      By Sara Lubbes, Josh Stager and Jesse Stanchak, CQ
      Staff

      Six of the candidates seeking the 2008 Democratic
      presidential nomination participated Thursday in a
      two-hour forum in Los Angeles devoted to issues of
      concern to gays and lesbians. The event — moderated by
      journalist Margaret Carlson and sponsored by the Human
      Rights Campaign, a gay-rights activist group — was
      broadcast live by co-sponsor Logo, a lifestyle cable
      channel aimed at gay and lesbian viewers.

      Taking questions separately in a talk-show-like
      setting were front-running candidates New York Sen.
      Hillary Rodham Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and
      former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Also
      participating were New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson,
      Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich and former Alaska Sen.
      Mike Gravel.

      Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd and Delaware Sen.
      Joseph R. Biden Jr., did not attend, citing scheduling
      conflicts. Logo offered to hold a second forum for
      Republican candidates, but the leading candidates for
      the party’s nomination declined to participate,
      Carlson said.

      Unlike several candidate debates held earlier this
      year, the Democrats never appeared on stage together,
      but took questions at 15-minute intervals from Carlson
      and a panel made up of Human Rights Campaign President
      Joe Solmonese, singer Melissa Etheridge and Washington
      Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart. Candidates
      were questioned in the order in which they agreed to
      commit to the forum, with chief rivals Obama and
      Clinton book-ending the discussion as first and last,
      respectively.

      The questions covered a mix of topics, including
      same-sex marriage, AIDS funding and employment rights
      for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples.

      The following is a roundup of some of the forum’s key
      moments:

      Most Discussed Issue: Debate about same-sex marriage
      dominated the forum. With only two candidates,
      Kucinich and Gravel, supporting full marriage rights
      for same-sex couples most of the scrutiny went to
      Obama, Edwards, Richardson and Clinton: All of them
      proclaimed their support for civil unions that provide
      many partnership rights to same-sex couples but do not
      constitute marriage under the law.

      “The country isn’t there yet,” said Richardson of his
      opposition to gay marriage. “Civil unions with full
      marriage rights is achievable.”

      Clinton described her opposition as “a personal
      position,” adding that marriage laws should be
      determined by state legislatures.

      Obama, who served in the Illinois Senate for eight
      years prior to his 2004 election to the U.S. Senate,
      would not say if he would have voted for a bill to
      legalize gay marriage. “It depends on how the bill
      would’ve come up,” he said.

      In one of the most direct moments of the night,
      Edwards backtracked on recent comments that his
      personal faith influenced his opposition to gay
      marriage.

      “I shouldn’t have said that,” Edwards said, adding,
      “My position on same-sex marriage has not changed. I
      believe strongly in civil unions.”

      The discussion also focused heavily on the Defense of
      Marriage Act, or DOMA, a 1996 statute that was crafted
      by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed by a
      Democrat, President Bill Clinton, who is married to
      Hillary Clinton. The law prohibits the federal
      government from recognizing same-sex marriage.

      Edwards went the farthest in calling for an outright
      repeal of the law. “We desperately need to get rid of
      DOMA,” Edwards said. Edwards has said he would not
      have voted for the bill if he had been in the Senate
      in 1996.

      Richardson was a member of the U.S. House in 1996 and
      did vote for the DOMA bill. But he said he backed it
      as part of an effort to block conservatives from
      pushing through a more stringent measure, a
      constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
      Richardson described DOMA as “a cheap political way to
      decimate a bad initiative.”

      Clinton, whose husband was heavily criticized by gay
      rights groups for signing the law, gave a more
      defensive response, saying it helped Democratic
      candidates in 2004 deflect Republican efforts to brand
      them as pro-gay marriage.

      “DOMA provided great protection against the Republican
      strategy to cynically use marriage as a political
      tool,” she said. But she expressed support for
      repealing the section of the law that defines marriage
      as only between a man and a woman, leaving in place
      only the section that gives states jurisdiction over
      marriage laws.

      Most Uncomfortable Moment: Etheridge grilled
      Richardson for using the Spanish word for the anti-gay
      epithet “faggot” on the Don Imus radio show in March
      2006, then asked Richardson pointedly if he believes
      being gay is a personal choice or an inherent
      biological trait.

      Richardson voiced the most conservative view among the
      candidates. “It is a choice,” he said quickly, looking
      down. Etheridge repeated her question in a friendly
      tone, wondering aloud if Richardson did not understand
      her the first time.

      “I’m not a scientist,” he answered. “I don’t see this
      as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and
      lesbians as people...I don’t like to answer
      definitions like that that are grounded in science or
      something else that I don’t understand.”

      Most Impassioned Moment: Kucinich, one of the most
      vocal supporters of gay rights among the candidates,
      won high praise from the panel for his support of full
      marriage rights for homosexuals. Carlson joked that
      Kucinich is “so evolved” for a member of Congress and
      asked how he got that way.

      Kucinich said that, as mayor of Cleveland, he was
      attacked for hiring a police chief who was sympathetic
      to gay rights.

      “To me, who cares? It really doesn’t matter,” he said,
      over cheers from the crowd. “Every one of us taking a
      stand has the potential to help any one of us evolve.
      That’s the gift we give to each other.”

      Most Nuanced Response: For the candidates who don’t
      fully support legalizing same-sex marriage, the
      challenge at the forum was to explain their positions
      on issues in a way that made them palatable to the gay
      constituency, while not alienating the majority of
      voters who are not gay.

      All the candidates endorsed repealing the ‘don’t ask,
      don’t tell’ ban on gays in the military, but Clinton
      had a little more to prove. She was first lady when
      the law was signed by President Clinton in 1993, and
      said she only came out against the policy in 1999.

      Clinton said that at the time the law was enacted,
      “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was meant to be a defensive
      bill designed to prevent more restrictive measures
      that moderates as well as conservatives might have
      been tempted to endorse.

      Best Line: “Back then, mainstream media marginalized
      me. Oh, I was a maverick. Oh, I was ‘Kooky Gravel.’
      Well, I tell you what, all you gotta do is live long
      enough that they look back and say, ‘My God, was he a
      courageous leader.’” — Gravel, who was initially not
      invited to the debate, playfully acknowledging his
      role as an outsider candidate in the race.

      Top Point of Agreement: All the candidates agreed that
      federal marriage benefits should be extended to all
      couples, regardless of sexuality. The disagreements
      only b egan when candidates were asked what they would
      call such a union and why. While candidates who
      supported anything less than full marriage rights
      didn’t impress the moderators, they all agreed that
      homosexuals should be guaranteed equality under the law.
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