Cable network, Logo, and national advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, co-hosted a groundbreaking presidential forum on Aug 9 for candidates to discuss LGBT issues ahead of the 2008 election. The event, aired on Logo and streamed via the Web, marked the first time in history that major presidential candidates addressed a live LGBT television audience.
Six of the eight candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination appeared sequentially before a small studio audience in West Hollywood to discuss key items on the mainstream LGBT agenda. Senator Hillary Clinton, former Senator John Edwards, former Senator Mike Gravel, Representative Dennis Kucinich, Senator Barack Obama, and Governor Bill Richardson each conversed with a panel consisting of rock star Melissa Etheridge, HRC President Joe Solmonese, Washington Post editorial board member Jonathan Capehart and Bloomberg News columnist Margaret Carlson, who moderated.
According to HRC and Logo, leading Republican presidential candidates were also invited to participate in a separate forum, but they did not respond to the invitation. Logo later announced that the event had attracted more than 180,000 visitors to the new visiblevote08.com Web site, making the presidential forum the largest LGBT online video event ever.
All six Democratic candidates concur on basic matters of LGBT rights, such as the need to pass proposed pieces of legislation that would protect individuals from employment discrimination and hate crimes on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity; the imperative to overturn the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military; and the sensibility of allowing LGBT parents to adopt children.
Candidates differed on the question of whether same-sex marriage should be legal, with only former Senator Gravel and Representative Kucinich endorsing full marriage equality. The four other candidates reiterated that they oppose same-sex marriage, but support civil unions as the vehicle to achieve the same rights for gay and lesbian couples. If this language sounds slippery, it is.
Here are some other highlights of the forum:
Hillary Clinton listened as Etheridge expressed her disappointment about former President Bill Clinton’s LGBT rights record by saying, “We were thrown under the bus.” Clinton also hinted that she supports same-sex marriage personally, if not politically, when her position was challenged. “I prefer to think of it as very positive about civil unions,” she said coyly.
John Edwards rejected earlier indications that his Baptist religion is the basis of his opposition to same-sex marriage, but he declined to explain what informs his stance.
Mike Gravel, a staunch LGBT ally from the Greatest Generation, was not invited to attend the forum initially. He was told he did not meet the $100,000 fundraising threshold, but the decision was reversed.
Dennis Kucinich, whose comprehensive support for the LGBT community afterward made him the darling of the gay blogosphere, drew a heart gesture at the conclusion of his appearance and announced, “I love all of you.”
Barack Obama compared the LGBT rights struggle to the civil rights movement and said that he does not see civil unions as offering less equality than marriage, which he believes is between a man and a woman.
Long-time LGBT advocate Bill Richardson fumbled severely in the eyes of many when, in response to a question from Etheridge, he said that he believes sexual orientation is a “choice.” The widely held belief that sexual orientation is innate provides a foundation for arguments in favor of LGBT rights.