Democrats participated Thursday night in a first-ever televised forum by presidential candidates focusing exclusively on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
The forum, held is Los Angeles, was co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group that has become increasingly influential in Democratic politics, and the gay-orientated cable network Logo. Logo televised the forum and streamed live it on the Internet. It is archived for people who did not watch it live.
Candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, and Mike Gravel all participated in the groundbreaking forum. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden didn’t appear, citing scheduling conflicts. Republican presidential hopefuls were invited to a similar debate, but none accepted.
“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender–LGBT Americans–were once invisible both in our communities and on the political landscape,” said moderator Margaret Carlson, on special assignment for Logo.
“Today, after decades of progress, moments big and small, LGBT Americans are visible and valued,” she said. “They’re also a force at the ballot box–so tonight, another monumental step forward.”
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the last politician to appear one at a time in 15-minute segments, disagreed with interviewer, rock star and LGBT activist Melissa Etheridge, who said former President Bill Clinton’s administration let the gay community down.
“I don’t see it quite the way that you describe, but I respect your feeling about it,” Clinton said. “I think that we certainly didn’t get as much done as I would have liked, but I believe there was a lot of honest effort going on by the president, the vice president, and the rest of us who were trying to keep the momentum going.”
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama responded to a question about homophobia in the African-American religious community by describing a meeting with black leaders he attended arranged by Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr.
“I specifically pointed out that if there’s any pastor here who can point out a marriage that has been broken up as a consequence of seeing two men or two women holding hands, then you should tell me, because I haven’t seen any evidence of it,” Obama said.
“There are some people coming out of the church who have elevated one line from Romans above the Sermon on the Mount,” Obama said.
Former Sen. John Edwards said he was proud of his wife, Elizabeth, for taking on conservative pundit Ann Coulter–who alluded to Edwards as a “faggot”–accusing the columnist of mongering hate.
“If you stand quietly by and let it happen, what happens is it takes hold, and then people tend to believe it’s OK,” Edwards said. “It’s OK to use the kind of language that Ann Coulter used. It’s OK for the Republicans in their politics to divide America and use hate mongering to separate.”
“I think that what Ann Coulter does is the worst kind of public discourse,” Edwards said. “I think she demeans everything that all the rest of us do. I think it is intended to go to the lowest common denominator in the American people and to divide us.”
“If you stand quietly by and let this happen, then what happens is hatred gets a foothold,” Edwards said.” And when hatred gets a foothold, it is much harder to see, and you cannot let these people go by quietly and continue what they’re doing.”
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, one of two presidential candidates supporting gay marriage, contrasted himself from the pack, calling it “a question of whether you really believe in equality.”
“I stand for real equality,” Kucinich said. He cited America’s Declaration of Independence, which said all persons are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. “To me this is a foundational principle of who we are as a country,” he said.
The BBC said the program it marked a “remarkable evolution in attitudes towards homosexuality in the U.S. over the past 25 years” that yet “could prove a political minefield in a nation where gay rights issues continue to polarize many people, as witnessed in the 2004 presidential elections.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday said endorsement from gay rights groups has no effect on most voters. But among the roughly 40 percent who say it might have an impact on their decision, support of a gay rights group, depending on the state, turns off from two to almost four times as many voters as it attracts
Obama, who supports civil unions instead of gay marriage, said there are 1,100 rights currently not being given to same-sex couples.
“Semantics may be important to some,” Obama said. “From my perspective, what I’m concerned about is making sure those legal rights are available to people,” he said.
Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, one of few U.S. denominations that support same-sex marriage, said the government should disengage from marriage, which many Americans view as a religious rite, from guaranteeing civil rights for same-sex couples. Churches, he said, should be allowed to decide whether to recognize those unions.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.