Fervent political promises, a plethora of insightful visions concerning the future, but above all else, an inordinate amount of…love? That’s right, love. Since when did candidates for the presidency of the United States of America espouse messages of love, you ask? In a forum on issues affecting the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, of course. Leave it to our community to show everyone about the unconditional love that American politics has to offer.
Last night, the Human Rights Campaign and LOGO had the honorable distinction of hosting the first ever presidential forum on LGBT rights. The forum featured the six leading Democratic candidates for the presidency (every Republican candidate who was asked to participate had “politely” declined): Senator Barack Obama, Senator John Edwards, Senator Mike Gravel, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Governor Bill Richardson, and Senator Hillary Clinton. Each had twenty minutes to answer questions posed by an esteemed panel consisting of HRC President Joe Solmonese, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, and journalist Jonathan Capehart. Even though there was much double-talking, deflection and political meandering when dealing with the most fundamental issues in our community, such as civil rights, equality in the workplace, and the right to marry, the forum was nonetheless an exciting and cerebral discussion about the matters of utmost concern to our community.
While all six of these candidates unanimously supported an end to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, they differed sharply on the issue of same-sex marriage. Candidates like Senator Obama stated that “my concern is continually to make sure that the rights conferred by the state are all equal for all people,” yet, when it came time to explain why he did not support marriage for same-sex couples, but a lesser form of it known as the civil union, Obama reasoned that marriage is just a word used by society to categorize such couples, and that while “semantics may be important to some…if we have a situation where civil unions are widely enforced and widely recognized, people have civil rights under the law.” While this may be true, such tautological reasoning can only be seen as a thinly veiled attempt to resurrect the age-old idea of treating our community as separate but equal. And as history has cruelly taught us, separate but equal is never truly equal at all.
When Senator Clinton, arguably the most enigmatic candidate of the evening, was asked why she opposes same-sex marriage, she coyly replied, “I prefer to think of it as being very positive to civil unions.” This sentiment was echoed by the majority of her fellow democratic candidates, all reasoning that civil unions are the only achievable option for same-sex couples in America today. Yet there were two noteworthy candidates that stood out as supporting the full equality of marriage for gays and lesbians: Congressman Kucinich and Senator Gravel. These two spoke openly and profusely about love being the most important consideration in the debate on marriage, as Senator Gravel plainly stated, “marriage is a commitment between two human beings in love, and if there’s anything we need in this world, it’s more love.”
Senator Clinton, with her “we’re not going to agree on everything, but I will be a president who will fight for you” attitude seemed to create an electricity in the room that earlier was diminished by Governor Bill Richardson’s offensive “homosexuality is a choice” misstep. You could almost hear the collective groans from the audience after such a careless response. Richardson then tragically back-pedaled by explaining that, “I’m not a scientist. I don’t see this as science or definition, I see this as a matter of human decency and love.” There’s that word again: love. I couldn’t help but wonder that if there was really as much love in our government as these candidates professed, shouldn’t we all be allowed to marry whomever we choose at this point? And shouldn’t these candidates all publicly support our right to do so? After all, for me, love and commitment are complicated enough without the government telling me I’m doing it wrong.
No matter which candidate ultimately garners the Democratic nomination, yesterday’s forum was a historic day for our community. As Senator Obama articulated in a post-forum conference call with supporters of his campaign, “to have a debate about LGBT issues sponsored by a network devoted to an LGBT audience and to have participants from all of the democratic camps, I think is a sign of the enormous progress we have been able to make.” At least we can all agree on that.