LOS ANGELES (BP)–Appearing at an historic Democratic presidential forum on homosexual issues Aug. 9, leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said she hopes to be a partner with the homosexual community if elected president and pledged to work on a broad range of like-minded issues upon taking office, including passage of a civil unions bill and repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t” tell policy.
In addition, and possibly for the first time in a public setting, she said she opposes state constitutional marriage amendments, which protect the natural definition of marriage and which a majority of states in recent years have adopted.
It was the first time the leading candidates from a major party appeared on one stage to discuss issues important to the homosexual community. Also appearing were Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. The two-hour forum was broadcast on the MTV-owned Logo Channel — a homosexual-themed channel — and sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest homosexual activist organization. Candidates appeared one after the other and had approximately 20 minutes apiece.
“I really hope that we can be partners in trying to make our country a little bit better and a little more progressive for all of us,” Clinton told the audience, adding that her husband’s administration “didn’t get as much done as I would have liked” on homosexual issues.
She reiterated her support for same-sex civil unions -– which Obama and Edwards also back –- and called her opposition to “gay marriage” a “personal issue.” But she also indicated opposition to every effort by conservatives to prevent its legalization, including passage of state amendments. That is significant, because in 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry actually supported a marriage amendment in his home state of Massachusetts. In at least one state, Oregon, passage of such an amendment in 2004 likely prevented the state high court from legalizing “gay marriage,” some conservatives believe.
“I … have been a very strong supporter of letting the states maintain their jurisdiction over marriage,” she said. “And I believe that was the right decision, for a lot of reasons. It’s easy to forget that just two and a half years ago, we were facing all of these referenda that were enshrining discrimination in state constitutions. And a lot of people tried very hard to fight against them and prevent them from being passed, but unfortunately they were [passed]. Now, two and a half years later, we’re beginning to see other states take different approaches.
Instead of adopting marriage amendments, states nowadays are saying, “Well, maybe we don’t want to do that,” Clinton said.
She said “don’t ask, don’t tell” –- which prevents homosexuals from serving openly in the military –- was a “transitional” policy adopted during her husband’s administration. Its repeal is one of her “highest priorities,” she said.
“When I am president we will get it done,” she said.
Clinton also said she favors repealing Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Such a move would allow the federal government to recognize marriages on the state level, such as those in Massachusetts. DOMA, she said, played a key role in assisting opponents of the federal marriage amendment.
“I don’t know that we could have defeated it if we had not had DOMA,” she said. “That is something that has provided a great protection against what was clearly the Republican strategy — blessed by George Bush, led by the Congressional Republicans -– to just cynically use marriage as a political tool.”
Although the top candidates tip-toed around the issue of “gay marriage,” New Mexico Gov. Richardson was more blunt.
“The nation is on a path to full inclusion,” he said. “A president must lead that effort.”
Although Richardson didn’t explicitly say he was for “gay marriage,” he did say he would support what was “achievable” –- civil unions.
“But we have to bring the country to a position where there is public support (for gay marriage),” he said.
Obama said he favors the full repeal of DOMA, a move that presumably could lead every state to be forced to recognize “gay marriages” from Massachusetts. Obama, though, said he opposes “gay marriage” but fully supports civil unions and believes it’s wrong that same-sex couples are not eligible for the federal legal benefits of marriage.
“I think that’s unacceptable, and as president of the United States I’m going to fight hard to make sure those rights are available,” he said.
Obama also said there is much “homophobia” in the black community, and he seemed to criticize Christian conservatives for their interpretation of certain biblical passages.
“There are some folks, who coming out of the church have elevated one line of Romans above the Sermon on the Mount,” said Obama, who later added that homosexual issues are part of his core beliefs.
“I don’t just talk about these issues where it’s convenient,” he said. “And there’s a reason that I spoke about the importance of gay and lesbian issues in the most important speech of my life. I didn’t have to. There’s a reason why in my announcement I talked about these issues. There’s a reason why I talk about gays and lesbians and transgender people in my stump speeches. I’m somebody who is willing to talk about these issues, even when it’s hard, in front of black ministers.”
During his appearance Edwards backtracked from recent comments where he had tied his opposition to “gay marriage” to his religious convictions.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” he said to applause. “… We have seen a president in the last six-plus years who tries to impose his faith on the American people and I think it is a mistake, and I will not impose my faith belief on the American people. … I believe in the separation of church and state.”
Edwards also pledged to end “don’t ask, don’t tell,” even over military objections.
“It’s not the job of the generals to make this determination,” he said. “It’s the job of the president of the United States to make this policy. And I can tell you I am firmly committed to ending don’t ask don’t tell.”
Asking questions of the candidates were journalist Margaret Carlson, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, singer Melissa Etheridge and Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart.