LGBT Issues Presidential Forum Sparks Debate


8-10-07, 4:04 pm

Thursday night, Aug. 9, six of the eight Democratic presidential candidates participated in a forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and MTV to talk about their views on LGBT issues. The forum was broadcast live via the Web at .

Because the six candidates who appeared have elsewhere expressed support for major LGBT equality issues, each candidate was questioned on marriage equality, a matter on which several candidates differ with LGBT civil rights organizations. Both Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Sen. Mike Gravel have endorsed marriage equality and said they would work to legalize same-sex marriage. Both talked about their long-standing support for LGBT civil rights and treating all people fairly.

Rep. Kucinich made a special connection with the audience, however, when he talked about his personal views on marriage equality. 'This is a question of whether you really believe in equality,' he said.

'What we're really talking about here is human love,' Kucinich continued. 'When you really understand what real equality is, you understand that two people who love each other must have the opportunity to express that in a way that is meaningful.'

Equality, Kucinich stated, is a key founding ideal of the country, and he believes that ultimately Americans, at their very best, support it and agree with his point of view.

Sen. Barack Obama talked about his record of support for LGBT issues and equality and his own life experiences with 'being on the outside.'

'My continuing concern is that the rights conferred by the state are equal for all people,' he said. While churches can maintain their own rules about whether they will recognize same-sex marriage, Obama argued, the separation of church and state doctrine means that faith institutions should not be able to determine who has equal access to federal rights and benefits.

Obama appeared to opt for a secular definition of civil union and for conferring rights and benefits on same-sex couples, which should be no different than heterosexual couples. He agreed to support legally sanctioned civil marriages for same-sex couples without requiring religious organizations and churches to sanction such marriages.

When pressed on whether this position could be seen as a 'separate but equal' position, Obama said the president's job is to ensure that equal rights are recognized and enforced by his or her administration. He added that 'semantic' debates about marriage or civil unions are less important than the fact of having access to the same legally protected rights.

Sen. Obama rejected fear-mongering about LGBT people and the right-wing's attempt to use homophobia to divide people. 'It's the job of the president, I think, to talk about these issues in ways that encourages people to recognize themselves in each other,' he said.

Obama confessed to being a 'hope-monger' who believes that most Americans have a 'core decency' that is a basis of national unity and acceptance.

Sen. John Edwards carefully avoided endorsing same-sex marriage but advocated civil unions that protect equal rights, endorsed including age-appropriate education about LGBT kids and families in public schools, supported adoption rights for gay couples, and rejected homophobia promoted by right-wingers like Ann Coulter.

'If you stand quietly by and let it happen, what happens is, it takes hold. And then people begin to believe it's OK,' he said. 'We have to stand up for what's right and fair and just.'

'What I think Ann Coulter does is the worst kind of public discourse,' he added. 'I think she demeans everything all the rest of us do.'

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson also would not endorse legalizing same-sex marriage. However, he touted his record on LGBT issues, pushing for domestic partnership benefits in his state, expanding funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and medical care, and opposition to a state ban on same-sex marriage.

Richardson did say that he believed the country would soon come to accept full marriage equality.

He expressed regret for his support for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as a member of Congress in the 1990s. He described it as a politically expedient and wrong tactic to stave off a Republican effort to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage. He also said he would get rid of the 'don't ask, don't tell' anti-gay military policy.

Richardson ran into trouble when asked whether he saw sexual orientation as a matter of choice or a matter of biology. 'It's a choice,' he said.

Later in the conversation, he backtracked from this comment and insisted that whether it's a lifestyle choice or genetic predisposition, he wasn't in a position to determine. The point is that 'every human being deserves the same rights,' he said.

Sen. Hillary Clinton said her opposition to same-sex marriage was a 'personal position' but added that she also 'prefers to see it as being really positive about civil unions.' Though she believes in civil unions with equal access to rights and benefits, Clinton said she supports 'letting the states maintain their jurisdiction over marriage.'

Clinton expressed opposition to 'don't ask, don't tell,' characterizing it as an 'advance' over military policies on sexual orientation at the time it was implemented. But now she believes service members should be judged on 'conduct, not status.'

Other Forum Details

At the close of the debate, Sen. Barack Obama and Rep. Dennis Kucinich topped the Web site's online poll with 37% and 24% of the votes of online viewers, respectively. Online viewers also cited health care and LGBT issues as their top issues in the election.

The forum was the first nationally broadcast presidential forum on LGBT issues. Judy McGrath, CEO of MTV, a co-sponsor of the forum, said, 'I feel like [the broadcast was] a great moment in the history of civil rights.'

Sens. Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd did not appear, and no reason was given for their absence. Organizers of the event said that all of the Republican candidates refused to participate.

--Reach Joel Wendland at

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