"I really respect the advocacy that the community is waging on behalf of marriage … I am impressed by the intensity and persistence of that advocacy, but this has not been a long-term struggle yet."
— Senator Hillary Clinton, responding to the LGBT community’s frustration with her belief that same-sex marriage should be a states’ rights issue, at The Visible Vote 08, the HRC/Logo-sponsored presidential forum on Aug. 9, 2007
Did you feel the love? Or did you, like me, feel more placated, stroked, as if being limply hugged by a group of so-called friends who showed up at your party only because they know you always bring booze to theirs?
Last Thursday night, six of the eight Democratic candidates for president — Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson and Mike Gravel — walked into a studio in Los Angeles and participated in a groundbreaking forum hosted by Logo (AfterEllen.com’s parent company) and the Human Rights Campaign. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd did not attend due to scheduling conflicts. Chris who?
The candidates who were either not busy enough to be somewhere else, or who honestly looked forward to talking directly to the LGBT community about our issues, were each given a little over 15 minutes each to answer questions posed by the forum’s moderator, Bloomberg News columnist Margaret Carlson and a panel that consisted of Jonathan Capehart, an editorial writer from the Washington Post; Joe Solmonese, president of HRC; and Melissa Etheridge, "an incredibly privileged rock star." She said it; I didn’t.
The evening was, as Logo promised it would be, different. The combined gay muscle of HRC and Logo, plus the respected panel members and the familiar queer faces in the studio audience — Neil Patrick Harris and Jane Lynch, to name two — all fed a vibe that was missing in the earlier debates.
Same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell were all discussed, not as footnotes, but at length as primary issues. Unlike previous presidential forums, nearly everyone in the studio audience had one and the same agenda, and that was to choose the man or woman who would best represent the LGBT community in the White House and fight for our rights once there.
As a result, the discussions looked more like job interviews. I hate job interviews. And judging from the behavior and speech of the candidates, most of them weren’t crazy about the four-on-one questioning process either.
Often awkward, but throughout a lesson in kissing-up, the candidates did what I have to assume was their best to show their respect for LGBT voters and attempt to secure a few more of our votes. But their best was either not good enough — or, as in the case of Kucinich’s over-the-top outpouring of endless love, too much.
Although for the most part the candidates answered the questions without deviating too far off course, one, Bill Richardson, was asleep at the wheel. After being asked by Melissa Etheridge if he thought being gay was a choice or the result of biology, a question that, as far as I’m concerned, begs an answer that too closely resembles an excuse, Richardson said, "It’s a choice." Then, after given the opportunity to rethink his answer, he said, "I’m not a scientist."
You’re not a president either. Sorry.
For the record, Richardson, who favors civil unions with full marriage benefits over same-sex marriage, has since apologized for misspeaking. "I screwed up. I didn’t understand the question," he said to Sirius OutQ Radio the day after the forum. "I had flown all night from New Hampshire — that shouldn’t be an excuse — but I made a mistake … It’s not a choice, it’s not a lifestyle, and I didn’t understand the question."
I understand. I’m tired, too, Bill — tired of fractional consideration.