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John Edwards answers HRC questionnaire on LGBT rights


I believe that couples in committed, long-term relationships should have the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities, whether they are straight couples or same-sex couples. I support civil unions to guarantee gay and lesbian couples the same rights as straight couples, including inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights, equal pension and health care benefits, and all of the 1,100 other legal protections government affords married couples. I support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act provision that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex relationships. Gay marriage is an issue I feel internal conflict about and I continue to struggle with it. However, I believe the right president could lead the country toward consensus around equal rights and benefits for all couples in committed, long-term relationships.
— the money quote from the questionnaire

[UPDATE: My comments on the questionnaire have been added after the jump at the end.]

Former NC Senator and 2008 White House hopeful John Edwards has completed Human Rights Campaign’s presidential candidate survey, which was passed on to me by Tracy Russo, online communications manager of the Edwards campaign.

Hopefully we’ll get a hold of one from all of the candidates.

See his answers on a variety of topics after the jump.Comment away…I’ll add my thoughts later, as I’ll be offline for a while, but Edwards is consistent — he is frank about the repeal of DOMA, is for all of the rights that come with civil marriage, but he still hasn’t crossed the bridge on applying the word to those rights.

Discuss the answers, but also the questions — was enough ground covered? What do you think the other candidates will say? I can’t wait to see Hillary answer the DOMA question.


1. Currently, there is no federal law protecting individuals from job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Qualified, hardworking Americans can still be denied job opportunities, fired or otherwise be discriminated against just because of their sexual orientation in 33 states and because of their gender identity in 42 states As president, would you support and work for passage of a federal bill that would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity?
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. Workers should be judged by the quality of their performance, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. While in the Senate, I cosponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. I also believe that stronger enforcement is necessary to prevent employment discrimination by federal agencies.

2. Currently the federal hate crimes law does not protect all Americans from bias-motivated violence. Would you support federal legislation that adds sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to existing federal law giving authority to the federal government to investigate and prosecute violent crimes (H.R. 1592)? This authority already exists for crimes committed because of the victim’s race, color, religion and national origin and because they were attempting to exercise a federally protected right.
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. Everyone is entitled to live in dignity without fear of violence. We should strengthen the ability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity. While in the Senate, I cosponsored legislation to give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

3. New treatments have improved the quality of life for those living with HIV/AIDS, but those treatments are expensive, and not available to everyone who needs them. Years of flat-funding for the Ryan White Care Act has forced states across the country to institute waiting lists, limit formularies, and other cost containment measures. The CARE Act provides access to lifesaving treatment and care for over half a million low-income Americans with HIV/AIDS. Would you support increased funding for this critical program?
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. There is an urgent need for more resources in the fight against HIV/AIDS. As a member of the U.S. Senate, I was proud to fight for greater funding for the battle against HIV/AIDS, and I co-sponsored the Ryan White CARE Act. As president, I will continue the fight for the funding that this program critically needs.

4. Would you support the Early Treatment for HIV Act (ETHA), S. 860, federal legislation that would allows states the option to provide Medicaid coverage to low-income, HIV positive Americans. Currently, only Americans that can be considered disabled are eligible for Medicaid coverage, excluding those who are HIV positive but have no symptoms of the disease?
X Support __Oppose

Comments:

Would you support increased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and research?
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to grow in the United States and around the world. I support allowing states to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income, HIV-positive Americans and more funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and research. My plan to guarantee quality affordable health care for every man, woman and child in America will empower people to prevent, test, and treat HIV without fear of losing benefits if they change or lose their job.

5. Would you support the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act which would create a federal grant program to channel money to states that choose to teach comprehensive and age-appropriate sex education for America’s students that includes science-based prevention methods?
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. I support comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education for young people that includes information on both abstinence and contraception.

6. Currently, only Massachusetts recognizes equal marriage rights for same sex couples. Do you believe the civil institution of marriage (with absolutely no requirements imposed on religious institutions) should be made legally available to two committed adults of the same sex?
__Support X Oppose

If you do not believe that civil marriage for same-sex couples should be made available to same-sex couples on the same basis as opposite sex couples, is there any legal construct you do embrace that would extend legal recognition to same sex couples?

Comments :

If a state has taken the steps to recognize same sex couples and their families for purposes of state-based benefits, rights, privileges and responsibilities (such as marriage in Massachusetts and civil unions in Vermont and Connecticut), should the federal government recognize the state’s legal recognition of such couples and families for purposes of federal benefits and tax treatment?
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. I believe that couples in committed, long-term relationships should have the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities, whether they are straight couples or same-sex couples. I support civil unions to guarantee gay and lesbian couples the same rights as straight couples, including inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights, equal pension and health care benefits, and all of the 1,100 other legal protections government affords married couples. I support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act provision that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex relationships. Gay marriage is an issue I feel internal conflict about and I continue to struggle with it. However, I believe the right president could lead the country toward consensus around equal rights and benefits for all couples in committed, long-term relationships.

7. According to a 2004 GAO report, over 1,100 benefits, rights and privileges are provided to married couples and their families in federal law that are not available to same-sex couples. Do you support extending federal benefits, rights, privileges and responsibilities to same-sex couples (and their children) provided the partnership meets certain federal standards of commitment and mutuality of interest?
X Support __Oppose

Comments:

Specifically, do you support the expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover domestic partners and their children?
X Support __Oppose

Comments:

Do you support modifying the Social Security System to pay survivor benefits to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian people?
X Support __Oppose

Comments:

Do you support fair and equal tax treatment of same sex couples on the same basis as married couples?
X Support __Oppose

Comments:

8. Many gay and lesbian people serve in the federal government but do not receive the same health insurance and other employee benefits of married couples. Do you support domestic partner coverage for gay and lesbian employees of the civilian federal workforce?
  X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. I support extending health care and other benefits to the committed gay and lesbian partners of federal employees.

9. While 47 states allow gay and lesbian people to adopt children, some legislators are pushing to prohibit capable, committed adults from adopting because of their sexual orientation. As president, would you support giving appropriate judicial authorities the full authority to make decisions on adoption based on the best interest of the child, without bans based solely on sexual orientation?
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. I believe that gay and lesbian parents should be able to adopt children just like any other parents. There are over 120,000 children waiting for homes in our nation’s foster care system. Adoption placements should be decided by judges and adoption agencies based upon the best interests of the children. Both members of a same-sex couple raising children together should be able to form a legal relationship with their children.

10. Would you support the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable an American citizen to petition for immigration sponsorship for a same-sex partner, and the INS would treat the relationships between opposite and same-sex couples in the same manner under the immigration code?
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. I believe that all families should be treated in the same manner by our immigration laws.

11. Would you support a congressional repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which would allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers the right to serve openly in the military as is currently the policy in nearly every NATO country (H.R. 1246)?
X Support __Oppose

Comments: Yes. I oppose the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays and lesbians serving in our military. The military ought to treat all service members equally and in a way that promotes national security, without regard to their sexual orientation.

***

The original PDF of Edwards’ response to HRC’s questionnaire is here.

***

10:30 PM: OK, I’m back. My comments on the above…

I think these answers are consistent with what we’ve heard so far from John Edwards, along with an clear statement that he supports the repeal of DOMA, which is what stands in the way of marriage equality on paper. Every single candidate who is in favor of civil unions cannot realistically expect to earn a gay vote without crossing this bridge.

That said, there is a follow-up question that needs to be asked, with companies denying benefits to couples in civil unions, how will Edwards or any other candidate will ensure that gay and lesbian couples will be treated equally under the law in a separate-but-equal on paper legal arrangement that cannot be called “marriage?” Civil unions, domestic partnerships and any other half measures are going to fail because they are not culturally equal.  The word, even when referring only to civil marriage, is universally understood and accepted.

Continuing to cling to civil marriage as something that gays and lesbians cannot partake in without a reason other than cultural discomfort with the idea only points out personal biases of the candidate. We don’t elect people to feel comfortable with a difficult matter such as this, we ask them to extend rights, not block them from people because of your personal issues.

You are elected to lead, not follow.

If bigotry and discrimination are wrong when it comes to race — something Edwards has spoken passionately about — it’s wrong across the board (unless he believes LGBT citizens are undeserving of the same civil rights). I simply don’t believe that he’s a bigot, based on the rest of his answers to the questions. He may be under-informed, and not exposed to average, non-Blue State gay Americans (hey, I’m just down the road from you, Senator, ring me) who have to live their day-to-day lives in the shadow of amendments and active right-wing legislators to quash any attempts to obtain the most basic protections.

For instance, in NC, John Edwards’ home base, we just had to fight another attempt by the Republicans to force a floor vote on a marriage amendment. We had a small but significant victory today — an anti-bullying bill, the School Violence Prevention Act, has passed its third and final reading in the House (72-47). This is the very first time in the Tar Heel state’s history that a pro-LGBT bill has passed in either chamber of the General Assembly. For those of you in metro Blue environs, this may be small potatoes, but North Carolina doesn’t even have an anti-discrimination law that covers sexual orientation or gender identity. My wife, for instance, could be fired from her job because of her sexual orientation. I’m fortunate in that my employer, a private university, has an inclusive policy and offers same-sex spousal benefits; we live in a Blue area of the state. Not everyone is so fortunate — it’s only a short drive from where we live to areas of North Carolina where it’s not safe to be out.

Will John Edwards learn more about this slice of gay America in his travels? We’ll see. Does he deserve a serious look — certainly, given the pack of Dems running this time around. His campaign was obviously eager to get his answers to the questionnaire out there on the record pronto, so he’s obviously ready for follow up questions and heat from the right.

One thing that is clear regarding the rest of the top tier — he’s definitely upped the ante for Hillary and Obama again, who failed miserably during the Peter Pace debacle when neither of them could manage to squeak out a direct initial response as to whether they thought homosexuality is immoral. Edwards didn’t break a sweat when answering “no” right out of the box.

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Pam Spaulding

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