8:30PM – Watch along with me and make your observations on this historic event. Although the show does not air on the West Coast until 9PM PST, West Coasters can stream the show live online. Quotes below are paraphrased.
9:00PM: Bit of an odd opening. Cut right to audience applause, no titles, no voiceover. Neil Patrick Harris in the audience. Moderator Margaret Carlson does intro.
9:10PM: Candidates are appearing in the order in which they accepted the invite to appear. Obama first. “This is a historic moment.” HRC’s Joe Solmonese gets the first question. “What place does the church have the issue of gay marriage?” Obama: “My view is that we should try to disentangle what has historically been the word ‘marriage’ from the civil rights that are given to couples.” Solmonese follows up with the “separate but equal” issue. Obama refers to his own parents but otherwise dodges the question.
9:20PM: Melissa Etheridge: “What will you do to bring the country together?” Obama: Blah, blah, blah. “I’m a hopemonger.” Applause. Etheridge: “Don’t be afraid to make change.” Jonathan Capehart: “How will you address homophobia in the black community?” Obama: “I’m somebody who talks about LGBT issues, not just before the HRC. I have specifically talked about the degree to which the notion of gay marriage has been used in black churches to divide. If you think that issue is more important than the fact that black men don’t have jobs, I profoundly disagree.” Capehart: “How can you run as the candidate of change when your position on same sex marriage is so old school?” Obama: “Oh, come on.” Then he changes the issue to ENDA. Dodgeball!
9:25PM: Obama’s time is up, no viewer question. Obama sums up: “My candidacy is I don’t just talk about issues that are convenient. I’m somebody who I think talks about LGBT issues event when it’s hard.” And he’s done. Standing ovation.
9:27PM: John Edwards’ turn. Etheridge: “Your wife and I both have a lot in common, having cancer and we both can afford good healthcare. Does you understand the health needs of gay and lesbian couples who are not legal couples and cannot afford healthcare?” Edwards: “LGBT people deserve healthcare rights. Under my universal healthcare plan, it would be available to them” He talks about the “amazing work” at the LA LGBT Center. Talks about homeless gay youth. “This can’t be America. America needs to see what I saw.” Etheridge: “I’ve heard that you are uncomfortable around gay people. Are you OK right now?” Laughter. Edwards: “That’s not true. A political consultant said that.”
9:30PM: Etheridge follow up on gay parenting. “Do you think public schools should teach about gay families?” Edwards: “Of course they should. Gay couples should have the same rights to adopt children.” Big applause. Capehart: “Why should the gay community believe that you’ll defend us when you didn’t during the 2004 campaign?” Capehart rules. Edwards: “I have seen the impact of hatemongering growing up in the segregated South. We have to stand up for what’s right and fair and just. ” Moderator gives a jokey question about Ann Coulter. “I think what Ann Coulter does is the the worst kind of public discourse. She demeans what the rest of us do and it’s intended to go the lowest common denominator and divide us. You cannot let these people go by quietly and go on doing what they’re doing.” Solmonese asks about transgendered issues. Edwards: “This is why we need powerful employment nondiscrimination laws.”
9:35PM: Solmonese calls Edwards on his opposition to same sex marriage. Edwards: “It makes perfect sense to me that gay people want civil unions but that stops short of real equality.” Hmm, almost looked like he was going to change his position, but he didn’t. Solmonese: “So on your self-described journey to accepting gay marriage, where are you? ” Edwards: “I do believe strongly in civil unions……blah, blah, DOMA, DADT.” Dodgeball. Edwards realizes it and recovers: “But I don’t support same sex marriage.” More chatter about DADT. “I am firmly committed to ending DADT.” Time’s up for Edwards. “America owes you (the audience) a debt of gratitude.” Smarmy, too smooth. Insincere.
9:40PM: Dennis Kucinich. Capehart: Is there anything the LGBT wants that you are against?” Kucinich: (Laughs) “No. Just keep those contributions coming and you’ll get the president you want.” Laughter. Kucinich talks about “human love”. Moderator: “You are SO evolved for a member of Congress.” Big laugh. Talks about being mayor of Cleveland and having a gay police chief. “Who CARES?” Kucinich rocks. Etheridge: “They told me not to fawn over you and I hope you ALWAYS run for president until you win.” Kucinich: “I wasn’t elected to Congress until my fifth try.” Etheridge asks question about AIDS and medicinal marijuana. Kucinich: “Compassion requires that the government support that.”
9:50PM: Kucinich talks about his longterm healthcare program that would completely cover people with AIDS or cancer. “My candidacy is not only transforming the ranks [of candidates] but it’s transforming the campaign.” Makes joke that he will, in fact, be elected in 2008. He laughs. Knows the truth. Moderator: Asks viewer question about the Ryan White funding. Kucinich: “I’m the co-author of a bill that creates Medicare for all.” Veers into sex education. “The challenge of AIDS is not just funding.” Solmonese: “You are a champion for our community.” Asks about ENDA. Kucinich gives props to Barney Frank. Applause. “I’m there on that issue, no question about it.” Back to marriage equality. Asked to wrap up, Kucinich spaces out and stares at the floor for a long time. A really, long time. Hey, is that Wilson Cruz? Kucinich: “I love all of you! Thank you!” Big applause. Great job. Totally unelectable, but great job.
10:05PM: Mike Gravel’s turn. I’ve met him. Wacko. Etheridge: You are unusual for your generation of straight white men. You actually support same sex marriage. How do you convince your generation on this issue.” Gravel thanks Harvey Milk Club and “the gays in NY and SF for getting him on the forum.” Says his generation is just wrong on gays. Etheridge is better than I expected. Gravel says if put to a popular vote, gay marriage would win. Doubtful. Gravel talks about how he and Kucinich are “moving the ball down the field on gay marriage.” Agreed. Ooh, he said “transgendered” correctly. When I met him, he said “transvestitite.”
10:15PM: Capehart: “Why do you think Obama, Edwards and Clinton are ahead of you?” Gravel: “They are playing it safe. Being against gay marriage won’t cost them any votes. I don’t care. I don’t WANT those votes.” Right on. Capehart: “Did we go for marriage too soon?” Gravel says Barney Frank is the smartest person in Congress, bar none. “By telling people that you can’t use the word ‘marriage’, what you have to do is recognize that when people tell you can say ‘marriage’, they are telling you you are second class citizens.” Solmonese asks what Gravel is most proud of from his politcal campaign. Gravel says it was his first bill in the Alaskan legislature. He’s rambling. Nuclear testing? Says to Solmonsese: “I love you, Joe. I honor you more than you realize.” Jokes about Solmonese’s age. Solmonese says he’s 34, asks about HIV in the black community. Gravel: “We have to address the whole drug issue.” Talks about how marijuana should be available in stores. Uh, AIDS was the question. He wants to end the drug war. Time’s up. Gravel closes with a plea for everybody to come out of the closet. He’s a hopeless nut, but I like him. Just not as president.
10:20PM: Bill Richardson. Capehart: “During the YouTube debate you said you’d focus less on same sex marriage and more on what’s achievable. What’s achievable?” Richardson: “Civil unions with full rights. Getting rid of DADT. I would repeal DOMA, which I regret that I voted for. Hate crimes laws are achievable. But we have to bring the country to a position where there’s public support.” Capehart asks about Richardson’s famous “maricon” quote. Richardson: “I meant no harm when I said that. I apologize.” Talks about getting domestic partnerships passed in New Mexico. Talks about his gay cabinet appointments. Says he’s made plenty of mistakes but that we should look at what he’s done. Talks about gay Iraqis. Talks about blocking DOMA in New Mexico. “Shouldn’t that count for something?” Solmonese: If the New Mexico legislature handed you a marriage bill, would you sign it?” Richards pauses a long time. Talks about blah, blah, blah. DODGEBALL!! Solmonese presses him on gay marriage. Richardson: “I’m not there yet.”
10:30PM: Solmonese asks about gay immigration spousal rights. Richardson talks about a consituent with a partner in Mexico who cannot immigrate. Etheridge: “Do you think homosexuality is a choice or biological?” Richardson:” It’s a choice.” Etheridge: “Maybe you don’t understand.” She repeats the question. Richardson: “I’m not a scientist. I don’t like to answer questions that are grounded in science or something that I don’t understand.” Etheridge presses him. OK, she is way better than I expected. Except for this silly question about bark beetles. Moderator: “People who are opposed to gay people say it’s a lifestyle choice. What do you say to people who would take away our rights on that basis?” Richardson: “It’s a matter of equality. I don’t believe gays are seeking special preferences.” Huh? He’s so friggin’ dull. Sleep walking through the interview. Out of time, thanks goodness. In closing, he asks Etheridge to ask Al Gore not to run for president. Etheridge: “He says it’s too soul-sucking.” Goodbye, Governor. You were completely mediocre.
10:35PM: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Moderator jokes about her coral jacket. Solmonese: “You’ve said that you would like to repeal DADT. Since 2003, you’ve sat on the armed services committee. Why haven’t you done it?” Clinton: “We didn’t have a chance with a Republican Congress. I want to try to do it when we have a chance.” Clinton recognizes SSgt. Eric Alva in the audience. What a hottie. HERO. I meant “hero”. Clinton talks about DADT and Alva’s Purple Heart. Solmonese: “What’s at the heart of your opposition to gay marriage?” Clinton: I prefer to think of it as my strong support for civil unions.” Clinton says she supports maintaining the states’ jurisdiction over marriage. Clinton gives props to HRC on the issue. “People and the states are moving more rapidly on this issue than the federal government.” Goes on about plotting with HRC to defeat the anti-gay marriage amendment. Says it could not have been defeated without DOMA.
10:45PM: Etheridge: “I have a personal issue here. I came out publicly during your husband’s inaugural week. It was a wonderful time. In the following years, our hearts were broken. We were pushed under the bus. It is many years later now and what are you gonna do to be different? Are we going to be left behind like we were before?” ETHERIDGE ROCKS. Clinton: “I don’t see it that way, but I respect your feelings. I think we certainly didn’t get as much done as I would have liked, but I believe that there was a lot of honest effort going on by the president and the vice-president.” Talks about “the unbelievable act” of marching in the gay pride parade as a Senatorial candidate. Clinton to Etheridge: “If I were sitting where you’re sitting, with all you’ve gone through in the last 14 years, I’m sure I’d feel like you.” Talks about reversing the “concerted assault” on gay people. Applause. Capehart asks about Gen. Peter Pace’s famous “gays are immoral” quote and Clinton’s slowness to condemn his remarks. Clinton: “He has no right to say what he says. I disagree with him profoundly.” Says she slipped up by not condemning the remarks immediately. Capehart: “Would you put somebody on the bench who is known to be anti-gay?” Clinton: “No!” Says she is our girl. Time’s up. Closing statement goes on about being a friend of the LGBT community. Clinton: “I want to be a president who can clearly say to the American people that these are our friends, our families. I will be a president who fight for you, will work for you. End DADT. Finally get hate crimes through. Work more on HIV/AIDS.”
10:55PM: Moderator wraps it up. Post-forum discussion to follow on LOGO.
Overall, I’d have to say nothing new was said. For a moment, it seemed like Edwards was going to announce a change to support gay marriage, but that didn’t happen.
Obama: OK, but not riveting.
Edwards: Slick, smarmy, insincere. Disappointing.
Kucinich: Amazing. Strong. Smart. Super-likeable.
Gravel: Wacky but loveable. Unelectable.
Richardson: Horrible. Soporific. Highly unlikeable.
Clinton: Same old, same old. Pre-programmed.
I give the win to Dennis Kucinich. Clinton and Obama tied for second.
Other than Dennis Kucinich, nothing in tonight’s program really changed any of my views of the candidates. But it was a well-run show that moved quickly and seamlessly, and I was pleasantly surprised by the directness of the panelists, particularly Jonathan Capehart. Melissa Etheridge was much better than I had hoped, although she fawned and gushed over the candidates far too much. And the bark beetle question was just wacko. Joe Solmonese was polished and delivered pointed questions, particularly on follow-up. Obviously, the panelists divided up all the issues prior to the show, with each candidate being questioned on gay marriage and DADT, with all the other issues pretty much handed out one-each to a candidate. I thought the set, while cozy, was a bit cheesy and the set-up with the studio audience on three sides of the stage very much reminded me of the local PBS station where I interned in college. And if you’re going to have an audience at all, why limit it to 60 or 70 gay celebrities? Still, overall – a fascinating exercise. Politically, the only new ground broken was the event itself. HRC and LOGO should be congratulated.
UPDATE: Wonkette’s take on Kucinich kills me: “I send you great love, from my home planet. I bring you peace.”