[6:08] So, yeah, courtesy of HRC Pres Joe Solmonese, the first question was about marriage: What place does the church have in government-sanctioned civil marriages.
Obama wants to disentangle the word "marriage" from the civil rights that are given to couples -- but then, of course, why this frame? Why are these rights given to couples, particularly, exclusively? (Not expecting to hear this conversation on TV, which is why I'm sayin'.) And then Solmonese calls civil marriage "like separate but equal." Thoughts?
MS. CARLSON: For the next two hours, the Democratic candidates running for president will be here to talk directly to you, live and commercial-free, only on LOGO. You'll find a wealth of information about the candidates and their positions on the issues at hrc.org and at the VisibleVote08.com, where this show is also being streamed live.
Finally, before we begin, a word about the order of appearance at tonight's event. The candidates, who will appear one after another, picked their time slots in the order of their confirmation to attend the forum.
And now, with that, it is my pleasure to introduce our first candidate. Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004. The senator previously served eight years in the state senate in Illinois. Please welcome Senator Barack Obama. (Cheers, applause.)
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you.
MS. CARLSON: Well, welcome, Senator. You are a rock star, I see. (Chuckles.)
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I don't know about that.
MS. CARLSON: Yeah, I've seen it. It's not quite as hot here as it was in Chicago the other night --
SEN. OBAMA: (Chuckles.)
MS. CARLSON: -- literally and figuratively, perhaps.
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely.
MS. CARLSON: We'll see.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it's wonderful to be here. I want to thank, first of all, HRC and LOGO for setting this up. I think it is an historic moment, not just for the LGBT community but for America. And so I'm glad that I'm participating and glad I kind of got the ball rolling.
MS. CARLSON: Yeah. Start-off batter here.
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely.
MS. CARLSON: Welcome.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
MS. CARLSON: I'm going to have some questions for you, but first I'm going to turn it over to Joe.
MR. SOLMONESE: Senator, thank you so much for joining us. It's
a real honor to have you here with us tonight. And thank you for
being the first to accept our invitation.
You have said in previous debates that it is up to individual
religious denominations to decide whether or not to recognize same-sex
marriage. And so my question is, what place does the church have in
government-sanctioned civil marriages?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it is my strong belief that the government has
to treat all citizens equally. I come from that in part out of
personal experience. When you're a black guy named Barack Obama, you
know what it's like to be on the outside. And so my concern is
continually to make sure that the rights that are conferred by the
state are equal for all people. That's why I opposed NOMA in 2006
when I ran for the United States Senate. (Applause.) That's why --
that's why I am a strong supporter not of a weak version of civil
unions, but of a strong version, in which the rights that are
conferred at the federal level to persons of -- you know, who are part
of the same sex union are compatible.
Now, as a consequence, I don't think that the church should be
making these determinations when it comes to legal rights conferred by
the state. I do think that individual denominations have the right to
make their own decisions as to whether they recognize same sex
couples. My denomination, United Church of Christ, does. Other
denominations may make a decision, and obviously, part of keeping a
separation of churches and state is also to make sure that churches
have the right to exercise their freedom of religion.
But when it comes to federal rights, the over 1,100 rights that
right now are not being given to same sex couples, I think that's
unacceptable, and as president of the United States, I am going to
fight hard to make sure that those rights are available.
MR. SOLOMONESE: So -- (interrupted by applause). So to follow
up on your point about the state issue, if you were back in the
Illinois legislature where you served and the issue of civil marriage
came before you, how would you have voted on that?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I -- you know, my view is that we should try
to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word
"marriage," which has religious connotations to some people, from the
civil rights that are given to couples, in terms of hospital
visitation, in terms of whether or not they can transfer property or
any of the other -- Social Security benefits and so forth. So it
depends on how the bill would've come up.
I would've supported and would continue to support a civil union
that provides all the benefits that are available for a legally
sanctioned marriage. And it is then, as I said, up to religious
denominations to make a determination as to whether they want to
recognize that as marriage or not.
MR. SOLMONESE: But on the grounds of civil marriage, can you see
to our community where it -- that comes across as sounding like
separate but equal?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, you know, when my parents got married in
1960, '61, you know, it would have been illegal for them to be married
in a number of states in the South.
So obviously, this is something that I understand intimately, it's
something that I care about.
But I would also say this, that if I were advising the civil
rights movement back in 1961 about its approach to civil rights, I
would have probably said it's less important that we focus on an anti-
miscegenation law than we focus on a voting rights law and a non-
discrimination and employment law and all the legal rights that are
conferred by the state.
Now, it's not for me to suggest that you shouldn't be troubled by
these issues. I understand that and I'm sympathetic to it. But my
job as president is going to be to make sure that the legal rights
that have consequences on a day to day basis for loving same sex
couples all across the country, that those rights are recognized and
enforced by my White House and by my Justice Department.
MS. CARLSON: You know, before I got to Melissa with her
question, I've been working with the Logo people for a couple of days
so I have more of a feeling for what troubles them.
And it seems like you've -- religion owns the word marriage, or you're
letting religion have marriage and then civilly you get civil unions.
But you got to get married, and I got to get married, but Joe doesn't
get to be married. And that really does mean that it's a lesser
thing. It looks like a politically feasible thing to do, but --
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, as I've proposed it, it wouldn't be
a lesser thing, from my perspective. And look, you know, semantics
may be important to some. From my perspective, what I'm interested is
making sure that those legal rights are available to people.
And if we have a situation in which civil unions are fully
enforced, are widely recognized, people have civil rights under then
law, then my sense is that's enormous progress. And that is the kind
of progress that I think HRC would be proud of and I would be proud of
as president. And that's what I'm going to try to lead.
MS. CARLSON: Okay, thank you.
MS. ETHERIDGE: Thank you very much.
First, I just want to say how incredibly humbled and honored I am
to be here. I am not a professional politician. I'm not even a
journalist. I'm an incredibly privileged rock star -- (laughter,
applause) -- and I'm --
SEN. OBAMA: That's a good enough reason.
MS. ETHERIDGE: I'm very, very grateful and honored here to
represent my community and be able to speak for so many people who
need to have their government's help.
And with that, thank you. I want to say hello. It's a pleasure
to meet you, Senator Obama.
SEN. OBAMA: It's great to meet you.
MS. ETHERIDGE: And you -- you have this reputation -- and not
only in my heart and my experience of you -- of being an incredible
orator. You speak, you touch many of us, and you have. And we have
lots of hope.
And I see you speaking to a very divided America. We have been
-- the last eight years we have been subject to a great fear that has
divided us all between races, between economic classes, and of course
gays and lesbians often feel like we are at the very end of that, the
"us and them" role.
SEN. OBAMA: Right.
MS. ETHERIDGE: If you're elected president, what are you going
to do? What are you going to do to bring this country back together?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it's a great question. Part of the reason
that LGBT issues are important to me is because I got into politics in
part because I don't like people looking down on other people.
It bothers me. Maybe it's something that my mother instilled in me.
Maybe it's the experience of being an African-American and at times
being discriminated against. So, the cause that all of you are
involved with is part of what prompted me to get into politics.
But part of what prompts me is also this hopefulness, this belief
that, you know, there's a core decency to most people, and certainly
most Americans, and that our founding documents, I think, have a set
of universal truths that are really important. And the key question
for the next president is can we tap back into that core decency and
can we appeal to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.
And part of that involves, I think, when it comes to LGBT issues,
acknowledging the reality that people experience every day. That's
why when I was at the Democratic Convention in 2004, I said there are
no red states, there are now blue states, but I also said, you know,
we've got gay friends in the red states and we've got -- you know, we
play Little League in the blue states.
Trying to acknowledge that people's experience on a day-to-day basis
is they've got gay friends, they've got gay family members that --
they love them and they cherish them, and somehow our politics creates
craziness and fear that doesn't match up with people's day-to-day
experience. And it's the job of the president, I think, to talk about
these issues in ways that encourage people to recognize themselves in
each other, and when I talk like this, by the way, you know, sometimes
the Washington press corps rolls its eyes and says, "Ugh! It's so
MS. CARLSON: No eye rolling here yet. (Light laughter.)
SEN. OBAMA: Not yet --
MS. : No, no, no.
SEN. OBAMA: But -- but people do because the sense is, you know,
"Obama, he's always talking about hope." It's -- you know, I'm a hope
monger -- (laughter) -- but I believe that and -- (interrupted by
MS. ETHERIDGE: I grew up in the Midwest. I grew up believing if
you work hard and you're good, then you'll succeed and you can be a
SEN. OBAMA: Right.
MS. ETHERIDGE: I grew up believing in our country, in this great
America. This is the greatest country. And I grew up believing in
those documents, and those documents say equality to everyone --
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely.
MS. ETHERIDGE: -- given by our Creator. And my Creator made me
what I am --
SEN. OBAMA: Right.
MS. ETHERIDGE: -- and I believe that. (Applause.)
And as you lead, don't be afraid. Don't let that fear -- be the
first one to make the change, to bring it.
All right, thank you.
MS. CARLSON: Thanks, Melissa. (Applause.)
MR. CAPEHART: Senator Obama, you've gotten some praise for
taking to the pulpits of black churches and telling the black
community, talking to the black community, about its responsibilities.
Now you and I both know that there's a homophobia problem in the black
SEN. OBAMA: Right.
MR. CAPEHART: So how are you going to talk to the black
community about that, both as candidate and if you are elected to the
White House as president?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, I have already done so. I mean, some of
you saw at the Howard debate, a -- Tavis Smiley had organized, I
specifically raised the homophobia in our community as an impediment
to dealing with AIDS issues. You know, I'm somebody who talks about
LGBT issues not just before HRC.
I was with Harold Ford. He organized a forum of black ministers
in Tennessee . And I specifically talked about the degree to which the
notion of gay marriage in black churches has been used to divide, has
been used to distract. I specifically pointed out that if there's any
pastor here who can point out a marriage that has been broken up as a
consequence of seeing two men or two women holding hands, then we --
you should tell me, because I haven't seen any evidence of it. And --
And what I've also said -- and what I've also said is, if you
think that issue is more important to the black family, which is under
siege -- if you think that's more important than the fact that black
men don't have any jobs and are struggling in the inner cities, then I
profoundly disagree with you. So this goes to the earlier point that
we were talking about, Melissa. I think when there's truth-telling
involved, people respond, as long as you don't come at people in a
heavy-handed way but rather you approach them based on their own
experience and their own truth.
And the black community, I think, has a diversity of opinion, as
you and I both know. There are people who recognize that if we're
going to talk about justice and civil rights and fairness, that should
apply to all people, not just some. And there are some folks who,
coming out of the church, have, you know, elevated one line in Romans
above the Sermon in the Mount.
And so my job as a leader, not just of African-Americans but hopefully
as a leader of Americans, is to tell the truth, which is this has been
a political football that's been used. It is unfortunate. It's got
to stop. And when it stops, we will then be able to address the
legitimate and serious concerns that face the black family.
MR. SOLMONESE: Senator, real quickly, a recent poll of The New
York Times and MTV of Americans ages 17 to 20 show that 44 percent of
them favor same-sex marriage compared to 28 percent of the public.
Now, you're running as a candidate of change. But how can you run as
a candidate of change when your stance on same-sex marriage is
decidedly old school?
SEN. OBAMA: Oh, come on, now. (Laughter.) I mean, look, guys,
you know, I mean, we can have this conversation for the duration of
the 15 minutes. But there's a reason why I was here first. It's
because I've got a track record of working on these issues.
If people are interested at the federal level, they can look at
who was the chief co-sponsor of Illinois ' version of ENDA, which we
passed. If people are interested in my stance on these issues, I've
got a track record of working with the LGBT community.
What I have focused on and what I will continue to focus on is
making sure that the rights that are provided by the federal
government and the state governments and local governments are ones
that are provided to everybody. And that's a standard that I think
can meet, and I don't make promises I can't keep. And on this issue,
I have been at the forefront of any of the presidential candidates.
MS. CARLSON: Senator, I want to do a viewer-generated question.
I want to do a Margaret-generated question very quickly.
SEN. OBAMA: Go ahead.
MS. CARLSON: Would you put the fight among gays and lesbians for
civil rights on a par with the civil rights movement for African-
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, my attitude is if people are being
treated unfairly and unequally, then they're being treated unfairly
and unequally and it needs to be fixed. So I'm always very cautious
about getting into comparisons of victimology. You know, the issues
that gays and lesbians face today are different from the issues that
were faced by African-Americans under Jim Crow.
That doesn't mean, though, that there aren't parallels in the sense
that legal status is not equal. And that has to be fixed. But -- but
I think it's important not to -- not to look at the black candidate
and wonder, you know, whether or not he's going to be more sympathetic
or less sympathetic to these issues. I'm going to be more sympathetic
not because I'm black. I'm going to be more sympathetic because this
has been the cause of my life and will continue to be the cause of my
life, making sure that everybody's treated fairly and that we've got
an expansive view of America , where everybody's invited in and we are
all working together to create the kind of America that we want for
the next generation. (Applause.)
MS. CARLSON: I had great viewer-generated question here for you.
You're never going to know what it is.
But now you get to sum up for 30 seconds or a minute.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, listen. It's a pleasure. This went too
quick. I want more time -- (laughter) -- but I don't have it.
MS. CARLSON: We'd like to give it to you.
SEN. OBAMA: But -- but the only thing I want to say is this.
All the candidates in this race are going to be terrific on these
issues compared to, certainly, the candidates in the other party right
now. And that's unfortunate because this shouldn't be a partisan
The one thing I guess I would say about my candidacy, and
something you should think about, is I don't just talk about these
issues where it's convenient.
I mean, there's a reason that I spoke about the importance of gay and
lesbian issues in a -- the most important speech of my life. I didn't
have to. There's a reason why, in my announcement, I talked about
these issues. There's a reason why I talk about gays and lesbians and
transgender people in my stump speeches. I'm somebody who I think is
willing to talk about these issues, even when it's hard, in front of
black ministers. I'm willing to talk about AIDS at Saddleback Church
to evangelicals and talk about why we need to have condom distribution
to deal with the scourge of AIDS.
So that's the kind of political courage that I hope all of you
recognize is going to be necessary in order for us to create the kind
of America that we all want.
And I appreciate your time. (Applause.) Thank you.
MS. CARLSON: And we're happy you came here.
SEN. OBAMA: I had a great time. (Applause continues at length.)
MS. CARLSON: Nice to see you.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you. Thanks. Thank you so much. Thank you
so much. Thank you. Thank you.