"Choice" in LA
If the goal of every candidate at the various Democratic debates is to avoid gaffes, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had the worst night at a televised forum on gay rights in Los Angeles. When asked if being gay was a choice or people are born gay, he not only said it was a choice but then repeatedly missed chances to clarify or restate his answer, as panelist Melissa Etheridge, a singer, checked to make sure Richardson had heard the question. The governor's aides heard his answers and didn't like them: his staff immediately sent out a statement "clarifying his remarks" that in reality changed them: Richardson in the statement says "let me be clear, I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice."
If Richardson lost ground among gay voters, it's not clear any of the other leading candidates gained anything. Throughout the evening, the panelists seemed desperate to get one of the leading Democrats to declare support for gay marriage. But it just wasn't going to happen. Barack Obama was basically asked the same question five times and each time said he wouldn't back gay marriage. Clinton and Edwards also fended off repeated queries on the issue.
After the debate, the most persistent of the questioners on this subject, Joe Solomonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the gay rights group that put on the forum, expresed frustration with Richardson's answer, but also said he was not pleased with how Clinton had handled the gay marriage issue. Solomonese said he felt Edwards, while not supporting gay marriage, "spoke from the heart," whileClinton was too focused on legal definitions and legislative tactics. And he praised Edwards for acknowledging he was wrong in the past to cite his religion as the reason for his opposition to gay marriage.
--Perry Bacon Jr.
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