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
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.
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 partys nomination declined to participate,
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,
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 forums key
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 isnt 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
wouldve 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
I shouldnt 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
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
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
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.
Im not a scientist, he answered. I dont see this
as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and
lesbians as people...I dont like to answer
definitions like that that are grounded in science or
something else that I dont 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 doesnt 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.
Thats the gift we give to each other.
Most Nuanced Response: For the candidates who dont
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 dont ask,
dont 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,
Dont ask, dont 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
didnt impress the moderators, they all agreed that
homosexuals should be guaranteed equality under the law.