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Clinton also took heat on her same-sex marriage stance — she’s for civil unions — and then made a comment that could not have pleased the audience, regarding the political necessity of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed by President Bill Clinton and has undercut many state rights and benefits that legalized gay couples have won through civil unions, domestic partnerships and marriage.
Citing her work with the HRC to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage, Clinton said, “I don’t know that we could have defeated it if we had not had DOMA. I mean, that is something that, you know, has provided a great protection.”
But the main stumble of the evening was executed by Governor Bill Richardson. Richardson was already in poor stead with the gay community when he awkwardly defended his use of the word “maricon” on the Imus in the Morning radio show; the Spanish slur translates into “faggot.” So Melissa Etheridge thoughtfully lobbed him a soft ball.
“Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?” the rock star asked.
Richardson thought for a brief moment, and said, “It’s a choice.”
Etheridge interrupted the governor and tried to bail him out, as did Margaret Carlson a few moments later, but the governor stared blankly at them, explaining, “I’m not a scientist.” In a quickly dispatched press statement after the forum was over, Richardson said, “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 what happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law.”
After the debate, Mayor Duran wondered, “He may have gay and lesbian friends, but it sounds like he’s never had a deep conversation with them. He just didn’t seem to get it.”
When the forum wrapped, the candidates drove over to West Hollywood to stuff their campaign coffers in the heart of Boys Town. Clinton held a large viewing party at $50 a head — $1,000 for VIPs — at the Abbey, a never-endingly popular gay-owned restaurant and bar on Robertson Boulevard. Treated like a rock star, the senator stood up and spoke, with recalled former California Governor Gray Davis near her side looking like a guy who had been granted political rehabilitation.
It was a basic stump speech, but this time she was facing a crowd of gays and lesbians, some of whom drank a few too many cocktails. At one point, an enthusiastic woman yelled, “We have your back, Hillary!” Clinton paused for a beat and said, “That’s very comforting, because for the past 15 years I’ve had to watch my own back.” The crowd went wild. After six years of anti-gay policies from the Bush administration, and after watching anti-gay marriage initiatives move forward in numerous state legislatures, the crowd could relate.