Don’t call it a debate. Democrats appear one-by-one in front of panelists. No new information from candidates.

In what CBS News called “a milestone” for gay rights, major Presidential Candidates appeared in a forum to provide their views of gay rights.

The candidates faced aggressive questioning on their reluctance to embrace marriage for same-sex couples.

All of the Democratic candidates support a federal ban on anti-gay job discrimination, want to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gays from serving openly in the military and support civil unions that would extend marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.

A majority of Americans oppose nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage and only two of the Democrats support it – former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, both longshots for the nomination.

Barack Obama belongs to the United Church of Christ, which supports gay marriage, but Obama has yet to go that far.

“If we have a situation in which civil unions are fully enforced, are widely recognized, people have civil rights under the law, then my sense is that’s enormous progress,” the Illinois Democrat said.

Hillary Clinton said she made a mistake in March when she steered around a question on whether homosexuality was immoral. She was asked about it at the time after Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he considered homosexual acts immoral and similar to adultery. Clinton later issued a statement saying she did not think being gay was immoral.

“It was a mistake,” Clinton said. “I should have put it in a broader context.”

Clinton was cheered by the crowd when she alluded to the prospect for change at the White House in the 2008 election. John Edwards argued that Democrats must speak out against discrimination coming from the Republican right wing.

Unless you speak out against intolerance, it becomes “OK for the Republicans in their politics to divide America and use hate-mongering to separate us,” Edwards said.

Panelist Melissa Etheridge, speaking to Edwards, said she had heard he once said he felt uncomfortable around gay people – an assertion contained in longtime political strategist Bob Shrum.

I’m perfectly comfortable,” Edwards said. “I know where it came from. It came from a political consultant. And he’s just wrong.”

Richardson skirted a debate on homosexuality.

When asked by Etheridge whether “homosexuality is a choice or is it biological?” he said, “I don’t see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as human beings.”

Richardson later elaborated in a statement issued by his campaign:

“Let me be clear – I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice,” Richardson said. “But I’m not a scientist, and the point I was trying to make is that no matter how it happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law.”

When Kucinich was asked whether there was anything on the agenda for gay and lesbian rights he didn’t support, he paused and said, “All I can say is, keep those contributions coming … and you’ll have the president that you want.”

In a statement clearly aimed at the leading Democrats in the field, he said his support for same-sex marriage was “a question of whether you really believe in equality.”

After the panel discussion, HRC President Joe Solmonese, said. “The overwhelming majority of the candidates do not support marriage equality. While we heard very strong commitments to civil unions and equality in federal rights and benefits, their reasons for opposing equality in civil marriage tonight became even less clear.”

A forum for Republican candidates has been offered but GOP candidates haven’t shown interest in reaching-out to gay and lesbian voters.

Source: Associated Press

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