At the first-ever televised presidential forum devoted to gay rights issues, Democratic candidates focused largely on reiterating pro-gay stances they have taken throughout the campaign, namely that they would seek to end the "don't ask, don't tell policy" on gays in the military and would back efforts to allow civil unions.
"I think it's a historic moment, not just for the LGBT community but for America," Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) said, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. "I'm glad that I'm participating."
The candidates have not forgotten the complicated politics of gay rights, which may be a popular cause in the Democratic primary but will prove to be a more complicated issue in the general election. Almost a dozen states voted to ban same-sex marriage in 2004, leaving Democrats wondering if those ballot initiatives increased turnout among conservative Republicans. In March, gay rights activists were infuriated when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace called homosexuality "immoral," and Obama and Clinton at first sidestepped questions about whether they disagreed with Pace's sentiments. At the forum, Clinton called this stance a mistake, saying she should have rebuked him earlier.
The leading Democratic presidential candidates struck a delicate balance Thursday evening between showing commitment to expand the rights of gay people and justifying their opposition to same-sex marriage during the campaign's first-ever televised forum focused on gay issues.
In an evening devoted to sensitive issues of sexuality and social mores, there were also riveting moments of frankness.
"I meant no harm when I said that," Richardson said. "It's one of those exchanges where I was caught off guard. But I think you should look at my actions, not words."