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Winners and losers at the HRC/LOGO VisibleVote08 forum

[UPDATE (10:30 PM, PT): I spoke with Governor Richardson just a few moments ago to discuss his remarks at this evening’s forum. See below.]

Let’s just say it right now – Bill Richardson self-immolated tonight on live TV. I haven’t seen anyone fumble a question like this so badly.

MS. ETHERIDGE:  Thank you. 

Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological? 

GOV. RICHARDSON:  It’s a choice.  It’s — 

MS. ETHERIDGE:  I don’t know if you understand the question. (Soft laughter.)  Do you think I — a homosexual is born that way, or do you think that around seventh grade we go, “Ooh, I want to be gay”?

GOV. RICHARDSON:  Well, I — I’m not a scientist.  It’s — you know, I don’t see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as people as a matter of human decency.  I see it as a matter of love and companionship and people loving each other. You know I don’t like to categorize people.  I don’t like to, like, answer definitions like that that, you know, perhaps are grounded in science or something else that I don’t understand. 

Karen Ocamb said there were gasps, and hisses in the audience. A Richardson supporter, Richard Zaldavar, said, that it’s a sentiment in the Latino and black communities that homosexuality is a choice (ostensibly to rationalize Richardson stepping on that land mine). He was given ample opportunity to extract himself from the situation, but it really went downhill from there. One other hurdle he didn’t clear was a direct question from Joe Solmonese about what the governor would do if the New Mexico legislature presented him with a marriage equality bill. He wouldn’t answer the question. 

The New Mexico legislature, I am pushing it very hard to expand domestic partnership.  It’s the same thing, Joe.  It’s a question of going through a path that is achievable. 

Now, you know, I’ll give the most flowery speeches like several that have done here.  I am in this business to get things done, to lead, to pass legislation, to bring coalitions together, to bring the country together. 

As I type this, the Richardson campaign is in scramble mode and plans to issue a “clarification.” His deputy communications director, Katie Roberts is working the press room now. Here’s the press release from the governor:

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson issued a statement tonight clarifying an answer to a question during the Human Rights Campaign Presidential Forum in Los Angeles.  The question came from panelist Melissa Etheridge, who asked if he believed homosexuality is a choice.

“I misunderstood the question.  Let me be clear- I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice.  But I’m not a scientist, and the point I was trying to make is that no matter how it happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law.  That is what I believe, that is what I have spent my career fighting for.  I ask that people look at my record and my actions and they will see I have been a true supporter of the LGBT community.”

UPDATE: Governor Richardson called me to discuss his comments that homosexuality is a choice. I was writing as fast as I could to get quotes close to verbatim. You can draw your own conclusions about them.

He says that was confused by the question, saying that it was tricky and it threw him off that it was asked in the context of biology and science. He said “I knew when I was walking out of the parking lot that I had said something in error. My staff alerted me that I needed to set the record straight.”

He went on to say, “This is something you are born with, and regardless of whether there is conflict about the science of it (homosexuality), I support full and equal rights. I fully support domestic partnerships.”

I pressed him more than once about his refusal to answer the hypothetical question as to whether Richardson would sign a bill passed by the NM state legislature that would grant marriage equality. He repeatedly gave the same answer that he’s worked hard to pass domestic partner legislation in his state, and feels that separate but equal DPs are achievable, and don’t pose the threat of a legal morass, as we see occurring in NJ with civil unions.

The governor then handed the phone over to Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for the NM equality movement, who worked with the governor to craft the DP bill. She said “it has been drafted to include every possible state benefit,” — acknowledging it cannot do anything about the federal benefits denied gay couples. “It will, however, immediately give our citizens hundreds of protections the currently don’t have.”

Richardson then came back on the line. I thanked him for his time and, clearly in frustration, he chastised the media for focusing on his “maricon” moment, said “For Christ’s sake, why don’t you write about my record.”

Well, we have focused on the positive aspects of your record at the Blend, Governor — diarist Miss Wild Thing wrote a passionate positive post, as a former resident of New Mexico, about your efforts on behalf of the LGBT community. It makes what happened this evening all the more perplexing.

More after the jump.Another release from Richardson’s office, just so folks are aware of his record.

Governor Bill Richardson has an accomplished record fighting for the rights of all Americans. Since taking office, Governor Richardson has:

  1. Expanded anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation. [Senate Bill SB 28, 2003 Legislature]
  2. Signed into law the state’s first hate crimes legislation for acts including those based on sexual orientation. [SB 38, 2003 Legislature]
  3. Provided state health insurance for domestic partnerships. [Executive Order 03 010]
  4. Signed the Billy Griego HIV and AIDS Act, which was designed to ensure that consumers are the focus of the funding and services provided in all the state’s HIV and AIDS cases. [Senate Bill 314, 2005 Legislature]
  5. Created the state’s first HIV and AIDS Policy Commission charged with reviewing and making recommendations on state HIV and AIDS policies. The commission also studies and makes recommendations on all factors affecting the availability, quality and accessibility of health services for persons with HIV and AIDS. [Senate Bill 313, 2005 Legislature]
  6. Called a Special Session of the NM State Legislature to push for Domestic Partnerships Legislation, among other issues, after it failed by one vote in the Senate during the Regular Session. Governor Richardson has pledged to push for the legislation again during the next Legislative Session.


Joe Solmonese came over to comment on the Richardson debacle and he plans to personally meet with him to discuss the issues. “We really have to have a conversation with Mr. Richardson,  that’s the first step — we have to clear the air.”

Obama and Edwards avoided land mines, and did fairly well. Edwards actually said that it was mistake to use his personal faith as an excuse to oppose civil rights for LGBT citizens as president.

I have to say that Hillary Clinton probably didn’t win over any new fans tonight; those who support her probably remain in her court. While at ease, at times she was condescending and impersonal, communicating a message that the LGBT community needs to be patient.

If I were sitting where you’re sitting, with all you have gone through in the last 14 years, I’m sure I would feel exactly the same way because, you know, not only did you bravely come out, but you’ve had health challenges and so much else. And so time can’t go by slowly.  You want things to move as quickly as possible, which I, you know, understand and wish could happen as well. 

An even bigger faux pas, if you can call it that, was Clinton’s reassertion that it should be up to the state to decide who can marry. This is simply not acceptable, given the history of bigotry legislated at the state level.

Elizabeth Birch said this about Hillary Clinton’s stance on state’s rights (via the press pool/Kerry Eleveld, news editor of The Advocate):

I am very disappointed in her analysis around the states rights issue and I intend to have a long talk with her about it because it is simply wrong.  Each time in the country when we’ve had to expunge great bias or prejudice, like slavery, a woman’s right to vote, regulating child welfare and a myriad of other issues, what has held addressing those issues back is leaving it to the states. The Federal government has a very particular and bold role to play when there is discrimination operating at the state level and it is their job to step in, be strong, and use the Constitution to eradicate that discrimination.”

Well said.

Some post forum quotes (thanks to Karen Ocamb):

Brian Graydon, head of LOGO: “This event was incredibly validating. Gays and Lesbians are a voting bloc– 4 % or more and that can swing an election, and the candidates know that.” He believes their support is a real evolution. the very fact that they all believed (the import of our vote) we were worthy was almost as moving at what they had to say.”

Joe Solmonese also indicated that HRC is not likely to endorse anyone in the primaries. “They are all pretty clear on our issues and there’s no clear distinction on the issues.” …”I was looking for some revelatory moments about the forum itself. My primary focus was how the candidates focus on religion and faith on the issues.” He also wished that Hillary Clinton could have come for a more personal place in explaining her position on marriage equality, but she relied on policy-speak too often. “It’s fine to talk about tactics and strategy but it was important to speak from the heart.”

“Tonight was an important night in the fight for equality for GLBT Americans. We pulled the curtain back a bit and gave all Americans a deeper look inside the candidates’ core beliefs about the issues that affect our community. From repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, supporting equal employment rights, providing full funding for HIV/AIDS epidemic, to eliminating the Defense of Marriage Act, these candidates went on record and committed to fighting for equality in all sectors of our society. Unfortunately, we have more work to do.  The overwhelming majority of the candidates do not support marriage equality. While we heard very strong commitments to civil unions and equality in federal rights and benefits, their reasons for opposing equality in civil marriage tonight became even less clear. Over the course of the presidential campaign, we will continue to ask these questions and demand real answers from the candidates who were appeared tonight-and from those who didn’t show up. The next president must be committed to not only doing what’s achievable, but also what’s right.”

Melissa Etheridge: I’m for all those people, they are all heading in the right direction. Obama mesmerizes me, I was under his spell. Edwards surprised me with his honesty. I’m a huge Hillary fan, but she wanted a better explanation for having been thrown under the bus. For my community I needed to ask that. She talked about sitting next to David Mixner and discussing DADT. Our hopes were so high, and I felt needed to challenge him. She hasn’t endorsed anyone.

John A. Perez, a labor leader representing the Food and Commercial Workers Union, he was undecided before the forum, and now he’s firmly in the Edwards camp. He had been on the stage with Richardson when he announced his candidacy, so this endorsement of Edwards is significant.


I do have to give a thumbs-up to HRC and LOGO for putting on a smoothly run event. The format worked out very well — 15 minutes of concentrated time with the candidates was definitely a plus.

The questions were tough, and covered a lot of ground — and the candidates had ample opportunity to expand on their otherwise thumbnail sketches on their views on LGBT rights. While Melissa Etheridge burned some of the precious time up on frivolous chatter that could have been used for additional questions, her earnest questions were often spot-on. In particular, she held Clinton’s feet to the fire regarding her own positions as well as the policies of Bill Clinton, that have affected our community.  

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding