Six of the eight Democratic presidential candidates were put on the spot last night at the Human Rights Campaign/Logo Presidential Forum. (Live blogs on Rod 2.0, Advocate Insider, Huffington Post and Pam Spaulding.) The forum on gay and lesbian issues ranged from questions on adoption to religion but the vast majority of the questions focused on same-sex marriage.
The forum was held in a Los Angeles studio that resembled a talk show set and many of the live studio audience were newsmakers within the LGBT community—Susan Stanton, the dismissed transgender city manager from Florida; retired Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, the first U.S. service member injured in the Iraq war.
The candidates appeared one at a time and answered questions from a panel that included Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, singer Melissa Etheridge and Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart. HRC and Logo have been criticized for selecting rock star Melissa Etheridge as one of the three panelists. Indeed her questions were lengthy and sometimes (painfully) self-aware but Etheridge was responsible for two of the most memorable moments of the evening.
Etheridge asked Gov. Bill Richardson if he believed sexuality was biological or a choice. "It's a choice," he said. Etheridge rephrased the question—"I don't think you understand what I'm trying to say"—but the governor stumbled over his words and didn't change his answer, offering only, 'I'm not a scientist. I don't see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as people as a matter of human decency.'
Richardson explains his confusion to Queerty: "I just simply made a mistake. I misunderstood the question. My impression - I thought it was a tricky science question, where you put politics into science. I think the word Melissa used was "biological". Since I use "choice" so much, I'm so committed to choice - a woman's right to choose - I thought that was the appropriate answer."
The other Etheridge moment was when she told Sen. Hillary Clinton that she "came out [as a lesbian] the week that Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president. 'It was wonderful. We were very, very hopeful, and in the years that followed, our hearts were broken. We were thrown under the bus. We were pushed aside. Al those great promise were made to us.' "
The question crystallized much of the gay antipathy that surrounds Clinton's presidential campaign. "Well, you know, obviously Melissa, I don't see it quite the way that you describe but I respect your feelings," the senator responded.
Clinton was asked about her opposition to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to explain why she hasn't brought up a bill for its repeal in the Senate Armed Services Committee. The answer was very strategic: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a very "transitional solution" and its enactment has been flawed, she explained. "Up until now, the Republicans have controlled Congress" and certainly the Bush Administration would be opposed. "Rather than fight a losing battle. I'll work to repeal it when in my Administration."
Mrs. Clinton also referenced Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva who was sitting in the front row. No other candidate did this.
"I've already done so," the candidate said. "Some of you saw at the Howard debate, I specifically raised homophobia as an impediment to dealing with HIV/AIDS. I don't only discuss homophobia with the HRC. I remember setting up a meeting with ministers with Harold Ford," he added, mentioning the former Tennessee congressman and current chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. "I told them, if they think same-sex marriage is the most important issue" facing "the black family, which is under siege, than the fact that black men don't have jobs, I respectfully disagree."
Obama also said that he didn't want to be held to a higher standard because he was black, which is a very good point t keep in mind. I want to do what is right," he said, and repeated this on a conference call with reporters.
Most of the questions—indeed the first question of the evening—were devoted to same-sex marriage. That is certainly a key issue among the base but it's a non-starter because 44 or 45 states already prohibit same-sex unions. It probably would have been more productive to discuss repealing Section 3 of DOMA or strategies around ENDA or Hate Crimes, two pieces of legislation that would affect the entire country and are supported by much of the population. It's also curious that more discussion wasn't given to health care or HIV/AIDS, which is a tremendous issue for the working poor, women, families and minorities.
However, the live presidential forum was historic, if for no other reason than it happened. The logistics were considerable and it's no small feat that all of the major players attended and this was broadcast live—everyone knows that or background is television news, so this was no small feat. Congrats to the Human Rights Campaign and Logo for pulling off a major production. If you missed the forum, it will be rebroadcast tonight on Logo. Clips and video on demand are available at Visible Vote 08.
HRC/Logo Forum: Richardson: Sexuality a "Choice" [R20]
HRC/Logo Forum: Obama Conference Call [R20]
Rod 2.0 on Logo [R20]
Behind the Gay-Friendly Faces [Advocate]
Reverend Gene Robinson on Endorsing Obama [Advocate]
Obama Campaign Names Gay Supporters [R20]
The Advocate: Clinton vs Obama [R20]
Obama and Edwards on DOMA [R20]
Obama Campaign Names Gay Supporters [R20]
Memo to Mr. Geffen: Get Over It [R20]
Video of CNN Comparing Obama to Axis of Evil [R20]
CNN Compares Barack Obama to Ahmadinejad [R20]
"Would You Let a White Supremacist..." [R20]
Hillary vs Obama [R20]
"Christians" Opposed to Obama [R20]
Obama Strategist Behind Hillary Big Brother Ad [R20]
Clinton Launches LGBT Steering Committee [R20]
Democrats Debate Homopohobia, Racism,HIV [R20]
Democratic Candidates Debate Gay Issues [R20]
Clinton Names Prominent Gay Supporters [R20]
Clinton Camp Targets Gay and Lesbian Donors [R20]
Clinton, Edwards Oppose Surgeon General Nominee [R20]