July 24, 2007
The questions get more pointed
Posted by: Chris
For all the grief the CNN-YouTube debate has gotten, some of it deserved, for trivializing the most important single election in the world, gays were fairly well served by the format.
We've seen time and time again how mainstream journalists ask a surface gay rights question, usually on marriage, and then let presidential candidates off with no follow-up. Mostly that comes from where gay rights stand on the national political agenda: We've arrived, no doubt, but we're not first tier.
But when you let the gays themselves ask the question, the opportunity is there to either waste our collective time or perchance cut through the rhetoric, even if we get only one or two question over the course of the debate. We got an example of each last night.
The first of two gay marriage questions, from a lesbian couple in Brooklyn, was direct if off-topic: "If you were elected president of the United States, would you allow us to be married to each other?"
Err, Mary and Jen, your video is cute, but the president doesn't decide whether you can get married. That would be the New York legislature, which passed a gay marriage bill through the House this year, and your governor, Democrat Elliot Spitzer, who introduced the legislation. It was a softball query that moderator Anderson Cooper gifted to Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who along with former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel is the only candidate in the race who backs full marriage equality.
After Kucinich's moment in the spotlight, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd repeated his family vignette, imagining what he would want for his own daughters if they were gay. The answer: equality but not marriage, a disconnect that was left untouched by follow-up.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, in his first big public appearance since his "maricón moment," gave the most honest reply from the dais: "Well, I would say to the two young women, I would level with you -- I would do what is achievable.
What I think is achievable is full civil unions with full marriage rights."
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards ought to take a cue from Richardson when it comes to straightforward replies, because he was truly made to look ridiculous by the second gay marriage question:
I'm Reverend Reggie Longcrier. I'm the pastor of Exodus Mission and Outreach Church in Hickory, North Carolina. Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote. So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay American their full and equal rights?
It's a great question, and one that has needed to be asked of gay-friendly marriage opponents who have hid too long behind their personal religious faith to deny us our civil rights. John Edwards' answer was an exercise in sputtering:
I think Reverend Longcrier asks a very important question, which is whether fundamentally -- whether it's right for any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we're president of the United States. I do not believe that's right.
I feel enormous personal conflict about this issue. I want to end discrimination. I want to do some of the things that I just heard Bill Richardson talking about -- standing up for equal rights, substantive rights, civil unions, the thing that Chris Dodd just talked about. But I think that's something everybody on this stage will commit themselves to as president of the United States.
But I personally have been on a journey on this issue. I feel enormous conflict about it. As I think a lot of people know, Elizabeth spoke -- my wife Elizabeth spoke out a few weeks ago, and she actually supports gay marriage. I do not. But this is a very, very difficult issue for me. And I recognize and have enormous respect for people who have a different view of it.
In other words, he had no answer, and kudos to openly closeted Anderson Cooper for calling him out on it, asking, "Why is it OK to quite religious beliefs when talking about why you don't support something?" Edwards fared no better the second time around:
It's not. I mean, I've been asked a personal question which is, I think, what Reverend Longcrier is raising, and that personal question is, do I believe and do I personally support gay marriage?
The honest answer to that is I don't. But I think it is absolutely wrong, as president of the United States, for me to have used that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights, and I will not do that when I'm president of the United States.
Talk about talking yourself into circles. Edwards says it's "absolutely wrong" to use his personal faith "as a basis for denying anybody their rights," but his "personal journey" on marriage hasn't yet arrived at equality. He gets credit, at least, for not throwing up some fake reason for his opposition; he's essentially against it because he doesn't have the political courage to be for it.
The same could be said for the maverick Barack Obama, whose "new politics" look decidedly old and tired in his subsequent exchange with Cooper:
COOPER: Senator Obama, the laws banning interracial marriage in the United States were ruled unconstitutional in 1967. What is the difference between a ban on interracial marriage and a ban on gay marriage?
OBAMA: Well, I think that it is important to pick up on something that was said earlier by both Dennis and by Bill, and that is that we've got to make sure that everybody is equal under the law. And the civil unions that I proposed would be equivalent in terms of making sure that all the rights that are conferred by the state are equal for same-sex couples as well as for heterosexual couples.
Now, with respect to marriage, it's my belief that it's up to the individual denominations to make a decision as to whether they want to recognize marriage or not. But in terms of, you know, the rights of people to transfer property, to have hospital visitation, all those critical civil rights that are conferred by our government, those should be equal.
Come on, Barack. You know better than to throw out that "individual denominations" should decide whether to marry gay couples. Only rabid Republicans suggest gay civil marriage would require religious gay weddings. It is a non-answer even less satisfying than Edwards' lame response.
Even still, I was encouraged by both the minister and Cooper's questions, and the way the candidate responses were so weak that they made obvious that continued opposition to gay marriage among gay-friendly politicians is nothing more than politics. Again, props to Bill Richardson for at least saying so.
All the candidates, including frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who managed to escape both gay marriage discussions, will need to do better on this and other issues for the HRC-Logo candidate forum on Aug. 9. Especially with the happy news reported by Karen Ocamb today that real journalists Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News and Jonathan Capehart from the Washington Post will moderate, alongside "panelists" Melissa Etheridge and Joe Solmonese, HRC's director.
Of course Etheridge and Solmonese are perfectly capable of asking pointed questions like those from Anderson Cooper and the North Carolina minister. But there's just absolutely no evidence they would. My own bet, which I would be thrilled to lose, is that Etheridge's questions would come off like the uninformed but cute Brooklyn couple and Solmonese would stick to softball after softball.
But expectations are much higher for Carlson and, especially, Capehart, who is a very well respected gay journalist who worked for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, which should certainly spice things up.
Taking a cue from the CNN-YouTube experiment, HRC-Logo are also inviting questions from the general public, albeit in old-fashioned writing rather than by video. "Put the candidates on the spot!" HRC announces on the submission page. We can only hope…
Video clips of both gay marriage questions and their replies are available on the jump.
For a complete news summary about gay issues in the presidential campaign, go to: GayNewsWatch.com/whitehouse08
For a complete news summary about gay marriage, go to: GayNewsWatch.com/MarriageEquality
The first gay marriage question, from the Brooklyn lesbian couple:
The second gay marriage question, from the North Carolina minister:
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