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  • March 21, 2008

    Richardson to endorse Obama

    Posted by: Chris

    Obamarichardsonclinton_2 Barack Obama receives some great news at the end of the most difficult week of his campaign. The AP is reporting that he'll receive an endorsement on Friday from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson:

    Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, is endorsing Obama for president, calling him a "once-in-a- lifetime leader" who can unite the nation and restore America's international leadership. Richardson dropped out of the Democratic race in January, and is to appear with Obama on Friday at a campaign event in Portland, Ore.

    The backing from Richardson, who was heavily wooed by both the Clintons, bucks up Obama's national security credibility, given Richardson's history as Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations and success as a "roving diplomatic troubleshooter," as the AP puts it, negotiating the release of U.S. hostages and handling delicate negotiations with North Korea, Cuba and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Richardson certainly knows what it takes to respond effectively to that mythical 3 a.m. phone call.

    Richardson will also bolster Obama with Latinos, who until now have largely supported Hillary Clinton.

    Perhaps the most encouraging result of this endorsement is the possible selection of Richardson as Obama's running mate. Richardson had his problems on the campaign trail, but he can help Obama in the general election geographically, demographically and on the hot-button issue of national security experience.

    It's also worth noting that Richardson was probably the second best president candidate on gay rights -- gaffes aside -- behind Obama himself. These two candidates at the top of the ticket should generate enthusiasm from LGBT voters of all political stripes.

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    January 22, 2008

    Bill Richardson regret?

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsonblog Whatever supporters of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama may say or believe about their candidate following through on promises to push gay rights legislation, today's news brought a reminder that only one candidate in the entire Democratic presidential campaign had a proven record of accomplishment.

    Bill Richardson dropped out of the race after a poor showing in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, and we all remember his gay campaign gaffes -- from defending his use of "maricón" on the Don Imus radio show, to lionizing anti-gay and anti-abortion Supreme Court Justice Byron "Whizzer" White, to telling Melissa Etheridge that homosexuality is a "choice."

    But the New Mexico governor was also the only candidate who had actually pushed gay rights -- and transgender rights, even -- into law. And today, even though he's no longer a candidate for national office, he is showing once again that he actually works to get things done on our issues.

    With Richardson's support and encouragement, a bill for domestic partnerships -- essentially civil unions -- passed the New Mexico House Judiciary Committee yesterday. He tried calling a special session of the legislature last year to pass the bill and failed by a single vote. He promised to try again and, sure enough, he is.

    Richardson may yet reemerge as a vice presidential pick for whoever wins the party's nomination. Considering his resume and his potential appeal to Western and Latino voters, either Clinton or Obama could do much worse.

    Gnw_lighthouse_logo_3 For related stories and breaking news, click or bookmark:

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    January 10, 2008

    Another Bill gives in to Hillary

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsongoodbye After finishing fourth in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Bill Richardson is apparently dropping out of the Democratic presidential race today. Despite a resume that outshone the leading contenders, Richardson was obscured by the celebrity wattage of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and even John Edwards.

    Part of the problem was Richardson himself, of course. He isn't as articulate as he is intelligent and was prone to gaffes, including his debate whopper of naming Byron "Whizzer" White as the Supreme Court justice he admires most. Give him credit for acknowledging that as his worst campaign moment when asked during last weekend's New Hampshire debate, a question both Clinton and Obama dodged.

    His campaign also suffered from two prominent gay gaffes -- the first taking place even before he officially announced his candidacy.  As Karen Ocamb and I reported on Gay News Watch, Richardson used the word "maricón" in an appearance on the Don Imus show. Most Hispanics consider the Spanish word to mean "faggot," and it was clear in context that's how Imus and Richardson meant it at the time. To Richardson's discredit, he tried worming his way out of the story by alternatively claiming the word means "girlie"  -- as if that made things better -- and blaming his opponents for leaking it -- when in fact it was a reader of this blog.

    The second gay gaffe took place in the Human Rights Campaign-Logo debate, when Richardson was asked by Melissa Etheridge if he believes homosexuality is a choice or not. Flummoxed, he guessed wrong and then failed to find his way out of the wildnerness when Etheridge tipped him off that he might want to reconsider. This second slip-up bothered me much less than the first, since he seemed tired and most likely confused how "choice" is a good word in the abortion debate with how much it's a bad one on gay issues. (In fact, he gave exactly that explanation in an interview with the Washington Blade last month.) All in all, the Richardson "choice-gate" is another example of where we still seek approval from politicians, rather than expecting good policy.

    Unfortunately for Richardson, his mediocre campaign performance obscured a record of actual results -- not just words, as Hillary is fond of saying -- that far exceeds any of the other candidates on gay rights. (That's what I said almost a year ago in a post titled, "Another Bill better than Hillary?") As governor of a marginally red state, Richardson nonetheless pushed through gay and trans-inclusive non-bias and hate crime laws and extended domestic partner benefits to state employees.

    Although Richardson opposes full marriage equality, he successfully headed off a gay marriage ban and when he didn't get domestic partnerships (which were actually closer to civil unions) through the regular session of the legislature last year, he called a special session. He came within a vote or two of succeeding.

    Richardson's gay record wasn't perfect; as a member of Congress he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and defended that vote up until last spring, when he said he favored full repeal. But still he has proven -- in ways that the leading candidates have not -- that he will convert his promises into performance. This has been the achilles' heel of Democratic Party support for gay rights at the federal level, and Richardson's candidacy at one point appeared to offer the antidote.

    Perhaps he will still land on the party's ticket as a vice presidential nominee, although the Iowa caucus shenanigans make that unlikely if Hillary is the nominee. Richardson would be a powerful V.P. pick for Barack Obama for a whole host of reasons, especially since his resume would fill out obvious gaps in the first-term Illinois senator's experience.

    Certainly nothing would present a new face for American to the world like having a woman or African American as president and a Latino as vice president. The question is whether Richardson's mistake-prone campaign ruined those prospects.

    (Photo via New York Times/Nathanial Brooks)

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    December 21, 2007

    If only, Bill, if only

    Posted by: Chris

    Bill_richardson_1 An exclusive interview with Bill Richardson in today's Washington Blade is a painful reminder of his enormous potential as a candidate and leader on gay rights issues. Finally, just weeks before he is likely to implode in Iowa and New Hampshire, Richardson offers an eloquent case for support from gay Democrats.

    I was an early fan of Richardson's, enamored of his record of actually passing gay and trans rights legislation, in addition to voting and cosponsoring the other hopefuls have skated by with.  Asked by Lou Chibbaro to make his case for gay votes, Richardson is succinct and persuasive:

    Because I, by far, have the best record, not just the record of voting right but of pushing for gay and GLBT legislation throughout my career as a congressman and as a governor, particularly as a governor. I believe I have the most far-reaching legislative record in a red state than any other governor. In fact, I think New Mexico and New York are considered the most pro gay-lesbian states in terms of rights simply because I’ve taken leadership positions and not just supported them.

    I’ve taken the lead, as you probably know, on a number of pieces of legislation. Hate crimes [legislation] with [protections for] gender identity — I pushed that in 2003 against the advice of gay rights activists who thought it would be too controversial. I pushed it and got it done by one vote. I passed executive orders preventing discrimination against gays in the state workplace. We passed legislation preventing discrimination against gay people. … I put a domestic partnership bill on the legislative agenda last year. We lost by one vote, and I’m going to put it up again in January.

    He even has polished his explanations on the two big gay gaffes of his campaign: saying "maricon" on the Don Imus show and telling Melissa Etheridge that being gay was a "choice" during the HRC-Logo debate:

    Well, those were mistakes. They were screw-ups. On the Imus issue, Imus actually asked me to repeat it, just to show that I could speak Spanish. So I didn’t say it in a derogatory sense. Plus, I think the version of ‘maricon’ in Spanish is not — in some cases in the old days when I learned the word, it was not directed at gay people. Gay people weren’t even referred to in the ‘60s, as you recall. It was more a term of making fun of somebody and there was no connection to it being a gay insult. But nonetheless, I shouldn’t have used the word. He just asked me to repeat it to see if I could speak Spanish. And so it was an inadvertent mistake.

    The second one, I was just tired. I should have known better. I wasn’t thinking. You know, we all make mistakes but I shouldn’t be judged on one stupid word as opposed to, I think, a distinguished and very progressive record. So that’s happened. I misunderstood the question. I still made a mistake because I have always been enamored of using the word choice. You know, choice when it comes to the right to choose, choice when it comes to health care. I thought that was an opening to say that I was for choice. I do now understand — I did understand that, I did know that. It’s just a foolish thing that I said.

    Certainly good enough, even if he's still skirting a bit on the meaning of "maricón."

    There were some glitches in the interview, where he promised to pass trans-inclusive hate crimes and ENDA merely by pointing out he rallied the votes in New Mexico. He never said if the whip count there showed a 40-plus vote gap with "gender identity" included, as it did in the U.S. House.

    But there was far more to impress in the interview than to criticize, including a one-of-its kind commitment from the former U.N. ambassador to use the weight of American influence around the world in the cause of gay rights:

    First, in my definition of the importance of human rights in foreign policy, and how we judge other countries in relationship with ties with the United States, it shouldn’t just be the Geneva Conventions and fair elections. I would include the treatment of gay and lesbian people as a factor in American foreign policy positions toward those countries.

    Secondly, I think the United Nations is a very strong forum to, with the Human Rights Committee, to pass resolutions, not just condemning these actions but pushing for full rights for gays and lesbians around the world. And then, thirdly, I would make my AIDS commission — millennium goals a major priority, funding for AIDS treatment, outreach and education. But I would also put my vice president in charge of the AIDS commission to give it both national and international strength, which is going to be needed to continue fighting pandemic diseases and AIDS around the world.

    Unforturnately, even heart-breakingly, it all comes too late. Richardson came close but never broke out of the second tier and isn't registering on the radar of the ABC -- Anybody But Clinton -- voters. It even seems he is submarining his shot as No. 2 on the ticket with Hillary. Perhaps he's still a possibility at Barack Obama's veep.

    Dare to dream.

    Gnw_lighthouse_logosmall For all the related headlines and breaking new, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/demprimary


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    August 21, 2007

    How Bill Richardson blew it

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsonforum A reader responding to my post on Hillary Clinton's inside gal for the HRC-Logo presidential forum posted a cite to an interesting piece in the Las Vegas Weekly, a mainstream alternative weekly (you know what I mean), on how Bill Richardson's "choice" gaffe cost him Las Vegas gay and, as a result, the crucial early Nevada caucuses and, as a result, his chance at the nomination.

    The column is by my friend and respected colleague Steve Friess, who knows the Vegas gay political scene like nobody else.  Friess has worked in gay and mainstream newspapers in Vegas and produces a gay-friendly podcast called "The Strip."  I don't doubt his analysis of how devastating the gaffe was for Richardson for the hundreds gathered to watch the forum at the Vegas Gay Center, and for the New Mexico governor's chances in Nevada generally:

    The room at the Center registered audible shock. Few gays view their sexual orientation as a choice because most have very early memories of same-sex attraction and because it’s illogical that so many people would choose to be social outcasts and family pariahs. As Carlson explained in giving the candidate yet a third chance to redeem himself, anti-gay forces use their claim that homosexuality is chosen to argue that gay people don’t deserve equal rights because they can change if they wish.

    Richardson didn’t get it, and it was over. Even his supporters knew it, vacating their space at the info table in the Center’s lobby first and punting all questions to a spokesman with a 505 area code.

    Summing up the general view was travel agent and activist Terry Wilsey: “I thought he’d make a pretty interesting vice-presidential candidate. But after that? No way.”

    Friess also takes Richardson to task for how he responded to the gaffe the next day, calling bloggers and claiming he was jet-lagged and didn't understand the question, which Melissa Etheridge asked twice and Margaret Carlson repeated a third time. The weak recovery reminds me of how he responded to the other gaffe, his "maricón moment" on the Don Imus show, claiming the story was a plant from a rival campaign.

    If Friess is right then it doesn't speak too well about the political sophistication of the Vegas gay community, ditching the one candidate with an actual record of results on a gay rights issue for giving an answer on "choice" that, Friess acknowledges, is actually not wrong and is irrelevant to our civil rights. Even though Nevada and New Mexico are (relatively) similar, Nevada has an anti-gay constitutional amendment and New Mexico doesn't. That's due in no small part to Bill Richardson.

    But candidates have imploded over sillier things. The Howard Dean "whoop" heard 'round the country comes to mind…

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    August 10, 2007

    Grade the Dems: Give Bill a B+

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsonforumhrc (Don't forget to vote in the Vizu poll in the right column below on which candidate you think did the best last night.)

    Much of the coverage around last night's forum has focused on Bill Richardson's answer to a question from Melissa Etheridge about whether homosexuality is a choice or biological. To Richardon's discredit, he said the former, though he has enthusiastically reversed himself in statements issued since.

    In some ways, the question says more about us than the answer says about Richardson. Why do we care if a candidate for president believes it's nurture and not nature? Do we really need validation at every level from everybody, just like our conservative opponents claim we do?

    I'm reminded of the Peter Pace controversy, where we all complained that the chairman of the joint chiefs injected his own views about homosexuality into a policy debate, and yet we freaked out when leading Democrats weren't immediately willing to do the same. Either private views about homosexuality are relevant or they're not. I prefer to judge by actions, not words, as Richardson suggested we do.

    Margaret Carlson pointed out in a follow-up question that conservatives harp on the "choice" issue as a justification for opposing our rights, but clearly Richardson doesn't. And even if agrees with them on "choice," he can also say to them that the question itself is a non-issue, since he still supports our equal rights (except for marriage).

    It's ironic to me that Melissa and so many other women who speak out so forcefully about a woman's "right to choose" to terminate her pregnancy, would suggest we have no "right to choose" our sexual orientation or aren't entitled to full civil rights if we do.

    I certainly didn't choose my sexual orientation, and I disagree fundamentally with Governor Richardson's response. But to read so many say how he "imploded" with his response just shows how needy we remain for the right kind of rhetoric, rather than the right kind of laws.

    Speaking of the right rhetoric, kudos to Jonathan Capehart for pressing Richardson about his "maricón" moment on the Don Imus show. Richardson's response was better this time, as you'd hope it would be, saying he apologized without conditioning his contrition with ominous suggestions about the motives of those (that would be me) who dug up the gaffe.

    Throughout his 15 minutes on camera, Richardson tried again and again to return the conversation to his very strong record of actual achievements in gay rights, but the "choice" and "maricón" gaffes only underline how easily he and voters have been distracted from his impressive resume — on this and so many other issues. It's the central conundrum of his candidacy.

    Joe Solmonese asked Richardson the night's only question about immigration rights for binational couples, and Richardson's response was strong. He voiced support for the Uniting American Families Act, now pending in Congress, and he told the story of a staffer who couldn't enjoy the benefits of the domestic partnerships Richardson signed into law as governor because his partner was in Mexico.

    It's unfortunate and a painful missed opportunity that the UAFA question got asked of Richardson, who's already on board with the issue, and not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who've said they support the idea in principle but haven't signed on to UAFA in particular.  Perhaps if real journalists were asking all the questions, they would have been directed to the right candidate.

    Solmonese also pressed Richardson on marriage, trying to move him off previous statements that he would do "what is achievable," meaning domestic partnerships or civil unions. Richardson wasn't budging and frankly I think his answer is more honest than any other candidate's in the race. If the reason is political, at least he's willing to say so, and not wax on about his "personal journey" (Edwards) or give no real answer at all (Clinton).

    I'm just cynical enough to believe that Solmonese's tough questioning of Richardson and the other candidates represents just another way of indirectly helping "the other HRC": Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    As for Richardson, I would be tempted to give him a D for disappointment, but his record his too strong, and I believe he is more genuine than John "feel your pain" Edwards. So I'll give Bill a B+.

    Here's his full 15 minutes:

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    August 01, 2007

    Ask the Dems: Bill Richardson

    Posted by: Chris

    Story1 Bill Richardson is the big enigma in the Democratic primaries. His resume is the best in the contest, on gay rights and generally. He's Latino, and he brims with confidence. Unfortunately, that confidence once in awhile comes off as cocky or even flippant.

    It's a bit of a mystery to me how a man who successfully negotiated with Saddam Hussein and the North Koreans could be as glib as he's been at times on issues as complex as Iraq. It's probably that same cocksure quality that got him into trouble with the gays — referring, of course, to his  “maricón moment.” on the Don Imus show.

    As noted, Richardson arguably has the strongest gay rights record in the race, including actually pushing into law workplace rights, a gay and trans-inclusive hate crimes law and domestic partnership for state employees. Then came news of his "maricón moment."

    The most troubling thing about the whole incident for me were his wavering explanations and his attempt to pin the whole story on a rival campaign, which we know is bunk.  It broke because a reader of this blog saw the positive things I'd written about him (here and here) and let me know about the maricón in his closet.

    As much as I'd like to ask Richardson to defend his spurious claim about the origin of that story, I would stick to the issues and for his "toughest question" I would ask this:

    Governor Richardson, many gay people were shocked you called a staffer with shock jock Don Imus a “maricón” in an on-air joke because he didn’t believe you were really Latino. You have said the word means “simply gay” to you and not “faggot,” as gay activists and many gay Latinos have claimed. But why would the Imus staffer be “simply gay” for not believing you were Latino? Shouldn’t you take full responsibility for what was clearly intended as a slur?

    Previous questions:
    Dennis Kucinich
    Joe Biden
    Chris Dodd

    For a complete summary of gay issues in the presidential race, go to: http://www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

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    July 10, 2007

    Bill Richardson's 'maricón moment'

    Posted by: Chris

    Richardsononimus I posted today on Gay News Watch a story I reported with Karen Ocamb of IN LA Magazine about Bill Richardson's use of the anti-gay slur "maricón" in an appearance on, of all places, the Don Imus show. Details are here, but the gist is that on a March 29, 2006, broadcast,  Imus joked with the New Mexico governor that one of the shock jock's staffer didn't believe Richardson is really Latino.

    IMUS: “You can just answer this yes or no and this will answer that question. Would you agree that Bernard is a maricón?”

    RICHARDSON “Yo creo que Bernardo, sí — es un maricón si él piensa que yo no soy hispano. [General laughter] Was that good enough or what? [General laughter]”

    IMUS: “That’s good enough for me.”

    Most of the gay Latinos interviewed for our story, and every gay Latino I've talked to about the subject, agrees that "maricón" means "faggot" in Spanish.  So, translated into English, Richardson had replied, "I believe that Bernard, yes — he's a faggot if he thinks that I am not Hispanic."

    Christopherhubble The March 2006 appearance is resurfacing now because of one reader of this blog. Christopher Hubble, a Denver, Colo.-based book publisher and blogger, e-mailed me after I wrote very approvingly of Bill Richardson's gay right record when he announced for president earlier this year.

    Like several of the Richardson supporters quoted in the story, I think the Imus appearance raises legitimate questions about Richardson's judgment. He was clearly baited by Imus, but he replied using the same word without missing a beat. He was so anxious to reply he talked over the host. A clip of the appearance is available here.

    Even more telling for me, however, is Richardson's handling of the issue since.  He is said to have apologized privately soon after the broadcast to Equality New Mexico, his state's gay rights group, as if he could say he was sorry by proxy to all gay people who heard the broadcast by making one private phone call. In that call, Richardson claimed that in the Spanish he grew up speaking, "maricón" only meant "effeminate." So he was calling the Imus staffer a "sissy," not a "fag." Does that feel much better to anyone?

    Billrichardsonocambblog A year later, seeking the Democratic nomination for president, Richardson's statement in response to the incident is even more of a non-apology apology. This time around, he claims the word means "simply 'gay,' not positive or negative.

    "It has been brought to my attention that the word also has a hurtful or derogatory connotation, which was never my intent," said Richardson. "If I offended anybody, I’m sorry."

    We've all known since childhood that "I'm sorry you're upset" isn't a real apology, taking true responsibility. We've lived through six years of a president who never admits he's wrong; the bar should be set high for candidates willing to say when they've messed up — not when they've upset you.

    At a more fundamental level, Richardson's wavering explanations about "maricón" strain credulity. If "maricón" means "simply gay, not positive or negative," then why in the world would Don Imus suggest his staffer was "simply gay, not positive or negative" for thinking Richardson isn't truly Latino? Why would Richardson agree?

    It's also hard to believe Richardson has "since learned" that "maricón" is offensive. Spanish-language dictionaries refer to it as a derogatory epithet, and I've yet to talk to a gay Latino who disagreed or had heard otherwise.

    The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has for years taken Spanish-language media to task for using "maricón." In one press release, GLAAD referred to "maricón" as a "derogatory slur" that is "vulgar, defamatory and unacceptable."

    Luisafernanda Language can be a tricky thing, as Telemundo host Luisa Fernanda found out recently when she was fired for using "cherna," the Spanish word for grouper on the air. Fernanda is Mexican and very gay-friendly, and says she had no idea that for Cubans, "cherna" is also an anti-gay epithet.

    Respected gay Latino bloggers like Andrés Duque at Blabbeando and Alex from Stuck on the Palmetto and have largely accepted Fernanda's explanation, but it still cost her the job. Is our standard for president lower than that for a Telemundo chat show?

    Most disappointing for me personally was Richardson's effort to change the subject, suggesting that news of his Imus appearance is surfacing now through some effort by rivals to quash his "momentum." No one associated with the story has been anything but helpful to Richardson's campaign in the gay community. In addition to my previous praise, which has been linked to pro-Richardson sites, my co-author Karen Ocamb gave Richardson an extended interview for IN LA Magazine. In fact, the only dirty politics here is the effort by the Richardson camp to smear his rivals for being behind a story they had nothing to do with.

    News of Richardson's "maricón" moment — while nothing so awful as George Allen's "macaco" moment in the 2006 campaign — should depress gay voters. Richardson is right when he says his record on gay rights is better than any other serious candidate, mostly because he can point to actual accomplishments rather than simply rhetoric.

    But a candidate seeking our support and our votes owes us more than half-apologies and wavering explanations, much less unfounded, Rove-like efforts to shoot the messenger.

    Click here for a complete gay news summary on the presidential race, compiled by Gay News Watch.

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    June 02, 2007

    Dems back federal rights for gays

    Posted by: Chris

    Demsdebate UPDATE: At the end of the post.

    Very big news today from the Human Rights Campaign, which released its "report card" that shows all seven Democratic presidential candidates back full federal rights for gay couples, including:

    • equal tax treatment
    • Social Security survivor benefits
    • immigration rights (UAFA)
    • inclusion in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    • domestic partner benefits for gay federal workers

    There's also a full commitment on trans-inclusion and complete support and agreement on every issue raised by the questionnaire except on marriage equality.  As we already knew, only Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich supports that.

    All the details are in a special report I've posted here on Gay News Watch.  HRC did not release the actual candidate questionnaires, but I have asked for copies and will post them.

    UPDATE:  I've now received all seven candidate questionnaires from HRC and the links to each are at the bottom of the article here.

    For a comprehensive look at gay issues in the presidential campaign, click here for the Gay News Watch summary.

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    May 26, 2007

    Clinton, Obama come up short

    Posted by: Chris

    Clintonobamablog Not to be outdone by the release on Thursday by the Edwards' campaign of his HRC candidate questionnaire, the Clinton and Obama camps put out documents on Friday to the Washington Blade outlining their gay rights positions.

    The Blade reports** that like Edwards, both Clinton and Obama renewed their support for civil unions, repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and support for ENDA and hate crimes bills.  Nothing new there, unfortunately, though in general terms both Clinton and Obama reaffirm their support "equal benefits" (Hillary) and "full rights" (Obama) for gay couples:

    “Hillary will work to ensure that all Americans in committed relationships have equal benefits — from health insurance and life insurance, property rights and more,” says a document from her campaign titled “Fighting for the LGBT Community.”

    “Barack Obama supports civil unions that give gay couples full rights, including the right to assist their loved ones in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits currently extended to traditional married couples and the same property rights as anyone else,” says a campaign document titled “Barack Obama’s Support for the Gay and Lesbian Community.”

    But the Clinton and Obama statements, which appear** to be reworked versions of their HRC candidate questionnaires, fall short of Edwards' positions in several key places:

    • Neither Clinton nor Obama addressed marriage equality; at least Edwards explained his continued opposition;
    • Clinton and Obama were silent on the Defense of Marriage Act; Edwards backed repealing the one-half of DOMA that blocks federal recognition of gay couples married by states;
    • Clinton and Obama were silent on the Uniting American Families Act, which extends to gay Americans the same rights straight citizens have to sponsor non-American spouses for residence and citizenship; Edwards for the first time pledged his support.

    Without seeing the actual Clinton and Obama documents,** it's also not clear whether either matched Edwards' specific commitment to extend to gay couples "all of the 1,100 other legal protections [the federal] government affords married couples." 

    I have asked several times in this blog how it is that Clinton and Obama could live up to their rhetoric on treating gay couples equally, even just at the federal level, without at least repealing that half of DOMA — the other half, which is likely unconstitutional, allows one state to refuse to recognize marriage licenses issued to gay couples by other states.  Whatever you think of Edwards, give him credit for confronting DOMA head-on and making his commitment on legal recognition specific.

    On UAFA, which has particular importance for me and thousands of other gay binational couples, it's long past time for Clinton and Obama to come clean on their position.  As noted, Edwards came out in support of the bill, which was reintroduced this month, in his HRC questionnaire. 

    Then came word yesterday (via Immigration Equality) that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signaled his support for UAFA in a yet-to-be-published interview with my pal Karen Ocamb at IN LA magazine. “I’m for that," Richardson told Ocamb. "Absolutely. I would push for that."

    By my count, that puts Edwards, Richardson, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (who backs full marriage equality) on record in support of UAFA.   Still to be heard from: Clinton, Obama and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.

    Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Brad Luna told the Blade that the gay rights group will be releasing all the candidate questionnaires next week, along with a side-by-side comparison.  That's very encouraging news, but let's just hope the Clinton and Obama positions on DOMA, UAFA and specific federal recognition for gay couples aren't filled in with question marks — or worse.

    ** Sorry I can't provide more detail on the Clinton and Obama releases because they appear to have been released exclusively to the Washington Blade, but the links to download the actual documents from the three camps are all broken.  I searched the campaign websites for both Clinton and Obama in vain for any mention (or public acknowledgment) of their supposedly proud stands in support of gay rights.  To be fair, the Edwards site does not include his gay rights positions either, so far as I could find, and all of the top three update their sites in real-time to include their positions on dozens and dozens of issues.

    In case you missed it:

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    April 28, 2007

    Another blunder for Bill?

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardson Is Bill Richardson getting bad advice? The New Mexico governor has a strong record on gay rights and support for minorities but in recent days he's sending all the wrong signals.

    There was his gaffe on Thursday, when he said during the first debate among Democrats running for president that Byron "Whizzer" White was his "model Supreme Court justice" — even though White authored the anti-choice dissent in Roe vs. Wade and anti-gay majority opinion in Bowers vs. Hardwick.

    Then, when given the opportunity to at least partially disavow his support for the Defense of Marriage Act — he did not do so.  Here's an excerpt from his interview in the May 8 issue of the Advocate (which I couldn't find available online):

    In 1996, when you were in Congress, you voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. Do you stand by that vote? Yes, I do. I'm for civil unions, and I've got the strongest record of any governor in protecting gay rights, in nondiscrimination, in transgender [issues].

    It's not entirely clear, since the interview doesn't go into detail, whether Richardson views his DOMA vote as simply a reflection of his opposition to gay marriage, or whether he really stands by each of DOMA's two provisions: (1) allowing one state to refuse recognition of another state's gay marriages; and (2) prohibiting federal recognition of gay marriages.

    In the same interview, Richardson twice suggests that as president he would push for "domestic partnership rights" and "a domestic partnership act."  Again there's no detail, and Richardson could just be referring to a law extending D.P. benefits to gay federal workers. But assuming he's talking about broader federal recognition of gay couples — something Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and others have hinted at as well — then repealing the second part of DOMA is almost a necessity.

    That's because any meaningful domestic partnership law at the federal level would likely recognize, at the least, gay couples who are married (in Massachusetts or abroad), civil union'd (Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and soon in New Hampshire) or domestic partnered (California, Hawaii, District of Columbia, etc.). To give any recognition to gay married couples, Congress would have to repeal that portion of DOMA. What's more, even those opposed to gay marriage shouldn't sign on to efforts to block federal recognition of licenses issued by those states that have chosen to marry gay couples.

    All this mushiness in positions taken by the leading Democrats practically calls out for some clarity from the Human Rights Campaign and other leading gay rights groups. I have pointed out, on more than one occasion, that we need some specifics from the candidates about what level of federal recognition each would extend to gay couples, whether or not such legislation is pending today.

    This would be my checklist:

    1. Domestic partner benefits for gay federal workers: 20 points
    2. Immigration rights for binational gay couples (Uniting American Families Act): 20 points
    3. Repeal of DOMA, Part 1 (federal recognition of gay married couples): 20 points
    4. Repeal of DOMA, Part 2 (let courts decide whether states can refuse recognition of marriage licenses issued to gay couples by other states): 20 points
    5. Federal civil union/D.P. law: tax, social security and other marriage-related federal recognition of gay couples extended to gay couples who are married or in civil unions or domestic partnerships: 20 points

    Unless I'm wrong, so far no one among the first or second tier of Democrats would score beyond a 20, at least in terms of specificity. It's long past time for gay rights groups, or the gay press, to get the candidates on the record on these points.

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    April 27, 2007

    A 'Whizzer' of a debate gaffe

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsondebate Last night's first Democratic presidential debate featured an interesting look at all the candidates and, with the exception of some bizarre rants from former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, relatively few gaffes. The worst of the evening was probably from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, someone I've written about favorably in the past.

    Put on the spot to name his "model Supreme Court justice,"  Richardson named Byron "Whizzer" White. Debate moderator Brian Williams of "NBC Nightly News" didn't allow Richardson an opportunity to explain the selection, but probably Richardson was responding to White's compelling biography. A college football star from Colorado, another Western state, White went on to serve in World War II before attending law school and working as Bobby Kennedy's No. 2 in the Justice Department.

    Justice_whiteBut White's tenure on the Supreme Court, after being appointed by JFK in 1962, was anything but exemplary. White was on the wrong side of history in three of the most important civil rights cases of his tenure: Miranda vs. Arizona, which established that police had to inform an arrested person of their constitutional rights; Roe vs. Wade, the landmark abortion rights ruling; and Bowers vs. Hardwick, which upheld Georgia's sodomy law.

    And White just didn't vote in the Roe and Bowers cases; he wrote the lead dissent in Roe and the majority opinion in Bowers, which was later overturned in Lawrence vs. Texas. White's approach in Bowers was particularly disingenuous, as he framed the issue about whether there was "a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy," even though the Georgia law at issue applied to both heterosexual and homosexual sex.

    White went on to characterize the Court's "right to privacy" opinions as closely connected to family and marriage. "No connection between family, marriage, or procreation on the one hand and homosexual activity on the other has been demonstrated, either by the Court of Appeals or by respondent," White wrote dismissively. 

    In 2003, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained for the Court in Lawrence why White's approach wrongfully treated homosexual sex as purely sex, even as the Court associated heterosexual sex as fundamentally intertwined with marriage and family.

    "To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward," Kennedy wrote, "just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse."

    Richardson may well not be familiar with White's role in Bowers (or Roe or even Miranda), but he's certainly got some explaining to do. It's unfortunate that a candidate with such a strong record enacting laws the respect the dignity of gay people made such a poor debate impression.

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    April 16, 2007

    Those devilish details

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillary_clinton Kudos to Lou Chibbaro and my former colleagues at the Washington Blade for an excellent report this week on how all the talk from the Democrats running for president about "equal rights" for gay couples hasn't translated into any real sense of what they're actually talking about.

    We know that Hillary, Obama and Edwards oppose gay marriage and support civil unions. But what does that really mean, considering they're running for president and those issues are decided at the state level?

    No one believes that Clinton, Obama, Edwards or the other Democrats support legislation to enact civil unions nationwide. Most Democrats are already on record favoring the idea of letting states decide what level of recognition, whether through marriage or some other form, to give same-sex couples.

    But that still leaves open what form of federal recognition will come for gay couples in those states that do enact marriage (Massachusetts), civil unions (Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey) or some form of domestic partnership (California, D.C., Hawaii, etc.). There are all sorts of possibilities. I offered up my own view, in a blog post ("Moving Beyond the Mushy") back in early February, about what specifics we should seek from the Dems:

    1. Repeal the portion of the Defense of Marrige Act that blocks all federal recognition of valid state marriage licenses issued to gay couples.  If the issue really should "be left to the states," as leading Dems are fond of saying, then the feds should respect the conclusions reached by each.
    2. Federal recognition of state-issued civil unions, at least for tax, Social Security and immigration purposes. After a half-repeal of DOMA (see #1), gay marriages would also be treated the same as civil unions at the federal level.
    3. Full-throated opposition to ballot measures at the state level designed to amend state constitutions to block gay marriage.  It's long past time leading Democrats found their voice in defending the role played by the judiciary in defending civil rights.  Respecting constitutions and judges doesn't require agreeing with every ruling.

    The Blade story hit some of the same highlights, especially the half-repeal of DOMA and federal recognition of civil unions. Interestingly, though, several leading gay activist sources suggested in the story that pushing for federal recognition of civil unions undermines the case for full-fledged marriage:

    HRC and other national gay advocacy groups so far have not called on Congress to pass a bill recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships sanctioned by state laws.

    “Though such a bill would provide significant protections for our community, it does not constitute same-sex marriage,” said Allison Herwitt, HRC’s legislative director.

    “Within our movement, there is an acknowledgement that only marriage constitutes full equality while civil unions are becoming a reality more quickly, causing advocates of equality to ask tough questions about what position to take on civil unions,” she said.

    Evan Wolfson, executive director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said it is far too early for gay groups and their allies to push for a federal civil unions recognition bill.

    With the 2008 presidential election already drawing widespread publicity, Wolfson said gay advocacy groups and their allies should be asking the candidates to spell out what they mean when they express support for equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples through civil unions.

    “When they try to do that, they will realize that there is only one system for doing it and that is marriage,” he said.

    “Why would we want to create a whole new system just to keep gay people from getting equal marriage rights?” Wolfson said. “This is not where the discussion should be at this time.”

    As much as I sympathize with these positions, I think they make the mistake of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The presidential race is not the proper forum to fight for marriage equality. It's a state-level issue, and all but marginal candidates like Congressman Dennis Kucinich are going to commit to it this time around.

    If we are to advance the ball with the first and second-tier candidates from where the Democrats were four years ago, then we need some teeth and some details in all the vague talk about "equal rights" for same-sex couples.  At the very least, we need HRC, the Task Force and other major gay groups to spell out what type of commitments they want to see from the candidates.

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    April 01, 2007

    Richardson hits the right notes

    Posted by: Chris

    Bill_richardsonap Bill Richardson continues to hit pretty much all the right notes in his underdog run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In a speech last weekend at the Human Rights Campaign's Los Angeles black-tie dinner, the New Mexico governor justifiably trumpeted a record of actually doing, rather than just talking, when it comes to gay rights.

    A story about Richardson's speech in the Washington Blade gave top billing to his forceful call for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which Richardson actually voted against as a member of Congress in 1993 — if Hillary disagreed at the time with her husband's support for the so-called compromise on gays in the military, she has never said so publicly. It's also worth noting that Richardson's HRC speech was pre-announced and open to the press — seven TV stations and a bevy of print reporters were there — unlike Hillary's stealth, press-free chat with the HRC board last month.

    A few of the high notes from Richardson:

    • On domestic partnership legislation in New Mexico: "The reason I have to leave [immediately after my speech] is that I called in my New Mexico legislature into a special session to keep pushing my agenda, which is a full domestic partner rights act.  (Applause) Now, it was a special session, it lost by one vote in the senate on the last night, just eight nights ago.  And the next day, with the legislature adjourning until next year, we thought we had secured one more vote, but we couldn’t get it to be considered on the floor of the senate.  So I said, not good enough! … I’m pushing this bill because I believe all families deserve our respect, no matter their race, creed, or sexual orientation.  I think people realize this bill is a victory to fairness and equality as well as to open hearts and open minds."
    • On workplace protection and hate crimes: "I don’t take just votes, I don’t debate issues; I actually get things done.  And I know that your top priorities this year are passing federal hate crime and workplace discrimination legislation.  I want you to know I don’t just support these bills, because we did it two years ago in New Mexico.  They were my bills."
    • On domestic partner benefits for government workers: "I ordered personally, through executive order, that access to health insurance and benefits be extended to domestic partners of state employees.  And now, I am fighting for full and equal rights for all domestic partners, including gay and lesbian families."
    • On openly gay political appointees: "I also appoint gay and lesbian individuals to important posts throughout my administration: in the cabinet, division directors, boards and commissions, and I’ll do the same if I’m elected president.  Leading an administration that truly looks like America."
    • On "the politics of division": "This country is tired of the politics of hatred and division.  What we need in this country is someone who can bring us together. And we are fed up, we are fed up with Karl Rove’s machinations, and Ann Coulter’s ignorant epithets. (Applause) Actually, we’re fed up with Ann Coulter, period!"  (laughter)
    • On being Latino (note he is unafraid to draw comparisions many white Democrats won't make with race and ethnicity): "As a Hispanic American, I’ve known in my life what it is to be different, to be singled out and throughout my entire career I have fought against discrimination."
    • On "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": "If I’m elected president, I will end this disastrous, disrespectful policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ And, once again, I am not a latecomer to this issue.  I voted against this initiative when I was in Congress.  And, I was one of the Democratic whips with President Clinton.  And I continue to oppose it today.  It makes no sense to turn away and turn out well-qualified recruits at a time when our country needs them most.  There are approximately 65,000 gay and lesbian soldiers serving in our military.  They are no less patriotic and their lives and sacrifice no less valuable because of their sexual orientation."
    • On Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace: "Homosexuality, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, is not immoral.  Asking someone to hide their identity and devaluing their sacrifice, is."
    • On federal legal recognition for gay couples: "Gay and lesbian families deserve respect.  And, if I’m elected president, [I’ll wage] a principled stand with you to fight for it.  What we don’t need [are] constitutional amendments, designed to exclude supportive, devoted couples.  We need to extend the rights due to all of us as Americans.  For instance, the right to visit a sick or dying partner in the hospital.  The right to make necessary legal and financial decisions when a partner can no longer do so."
    • On HIV/AIDS: "I pledge to you, if I’m elected president, that this will be the highest priority in our foreign policy.  And the AIDS commission that is appointed and disappointed and is not active will be a priority in my administration and the AIDS commission chairman will be the vice president of the United States."

    There are important issues Richardson didn't address, like his 1996 vote for the Defense of Marriage Act. Does he stand by that vote and both of DOMA's twin provisions: banning federal recognition of state-issued marriage licenses to gay couples, and allowing one state to ignore gay marriages from another state?

    He spoke of "domestic partnerships," while Hillary, Barack Obama and John Edwards talk about civil unions. The difference may be simply semantic, since DP laws and civil unions can be rough equivalents (compare domestic partnerships in California and D.C. with civil unions in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey). But that should be clarified. And he gave examples of federal recognition for gay couples, but didn't flesh out everything he would support, including tax, Social Security and immigration rights. The three leading candidates are already on record in support of the first two and Edwards for the third.

    But speaking of Edwards, Richardson's L.A. appearance was dramatically better than Edwards' gay debut, at the Atlanta HRC dinner in May 2003. I was there and, like many in attendance, was disappointed. Given the opportunity to make his case for gay votes, the then-senator from North Carolina chose instead to give his stump speech with small additions backing ENDA and hate crimes. Richardson has a much stronger record to run on than Edwards (then or now) and a much better start four years later.

    The important thing to watch now is whether HRC pressures Richardson and the other Democrats to flesh out their positions on federal recognition of gay couples. Even though HRC's top priorities in the current session of Congress are ENDA, hate crimes and perhaps "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, the Democrats campaigning for gay support in their White House runs should be pressured to hit even higher notes on the long campaign trail ahead.

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    January 21, 2007

    Another Bill better than Hillary?

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardson One day after Hillary Clinton announced she's "in," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson threw his hat in the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.  If nothing else, having Richardson in the race takes the "experience" arrow out of Hillary's would-be arsenal against freshman Sen. Barack Obama. Richardson's deep resume — which includes "doing" as well as talking — makes the rest of the field, including especially Hillary and John Edwards, look like rookies.

    Richardson has 15 years in Congress, served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy in the (Bill) Clinton administration, and was elected in a landslide to a second term as governor of New Mexico.  In addition, Richardson is Latino, bilingual and has proven amazingly adept at difficult international negotiation where others before him failed.

    That negotiation savvy shouldn't be underestimated.  Look what it's done for him on the difficult issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples.  Richardson opposes gay marriage, but when the New Mexico legislature began pushing a "Defense of Marriage Act" in 2005, Richardson said he would veto it unless the DOMA was enacted alongside civil union legislation.  Richardson's position wasn't just expedient, it was fairly principled and would satisfy any but those with a gay marriage litmus test. The DOMA effort failed.

    What's more, you don't get better than Richardson on gay issues, and again he's not just talking the talk; he's walked the walk.  In his first term as governor, he led the state from nowhere to being ranked among the best in the nation on gay rights protections:

    • He signed legislation expanding New Mexico civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. (At the time, only three other states had included transgender protections.)
    • He signed a hate crimes law that included actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
    • He signed an executive order in 2003 extending health insurance and other benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of N.M. state employees.
    • He's on record backing full-fledged civil unions and (unlike John Kerry) opposes state-level constitutional amendments banning gays from marrying.
    • While in Congress, Richardson backed military service for out gay men and lesbians.  That means, unlike Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary and the rest, he was anti-Don't Ask, Don't Tell when it was very uncool to be.

    Richardson's record isn't unblemished.  He voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and I couldn't find any statement since recanting that support.  Even with such an impressive record on other gay issues, Richardson will need to explain his position on DOMA to gay Democrats.  At the very least, he should renounce the portion of DOMA that bans federal recognition of marriage licenses issued to gay couples, and he should back full federal recognition of state-issued civil unions.  Given his support for civil unions, that seems likely.

    Richardson's resume and savvy at negotiation, which requires bringing people together rather than wedging them, makes him an experienced politician who can legitimately claim to being "a uniter and not a divider."  With a bit of massaging on DOMA and federal civil unions, he may well be the best bet for gays in 2008.

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