Alex Blaze

Richardson's choice fumble... and his staffer's attempt at a save

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 10, 2007 6:11 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Bill Richardson, chosen family, HRC, Logo, presidential debates

Remember that comment Richardson made that implied that he thought homosexuality is a choice? How did it go....

It's a choice.

Oh, yeah, that sounds about right. Well, anyway, his campaign is freaking out now. So much so that I received this press release from his campaign at 12:07am last night, an hour and a half the debate ended, with the subject line "Richardson's Statement Clarifying Answer From HRC Forum". His clarification is as follows:

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.

The rest after the jump.

Here's the rest of his backtrack (emphasis theirs):

"Let me be clear -- I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice," Governor Richardson said. "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."

Well, it was kind of strange that he was even asked this in the first place, and it's even stranger that he didn't clarify even after Melissa Etheridge told him he got the answer wrong, and honestly it doesn't matter if he thinks that it's a choice or not as long as he chooses good policy.

But guess what? You don't just walk into an HRC event and say sexuality is a choice on live TV if you want to get into their constituency's good graces. The point of this forum wasn't policy positions; we knew where they all stood from the HRC questionnaire a couple of months ago on the issues important to the HRC. This event was about them coming out and making sure they're speaking our language, that they are comfortable around us, and that they know how to talk to us, so that we can assess their credibility and ensure that we don't get thrown under the bus when they get into office.

And when it came to that, Richardson failed with this answer. He showed that he wasn't up to speed on where the majority of LGBTQueer people are when it comes to sexuality and gender identity and that he really wasn't familiar with the way our gaystream culture has developed. And a lot of us are going to feel like his straight-out-of-the-60's answer is the same sort of lip service Clinton paid to us in '92.

His press release response that it doesn't matter if it's a choice, it's autonomy and equality that are important, is actually about where I am right now. But guess what? He didn't say that in the debate. He probably didn't say that for the press release either - it was most likely written up by a staffer who made up the quotation and attributed it to him. And if he can't figure out that that's a nerve for us, well, it really just goes to his judgment and shows how little he prepared for this event.

It's not hard. Most gays are understandably sensitive to being told that they chose to go against their natural heterosexuality. So I'm really surprised that he didn't even take Melissa's and Carlson's opportunities to clarify while on stage, but I guess this shows a lot about what kind of candidate he is.

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Don Sherfick | August 10, 2007 7:43 AM

I truly don't know what to make of the Richardson statement. Until I read the transcrip this morning, I thought he simply had avoided answering by saying he wasn't a scientist. But indeed he did start with saying it was a choice. But I can't dismiss him entirely given his active pushing for domestic partnership legislation, and obviously something akin to that made him your favorite previously. I saw him look unomfortable and uneasy at an earlier event (I was going to say "debate" but that would have implied that last night's even was one, too), and wonder if he just was basically out of it.

As to his staffer later saying that whether homosexuality is a choice or not isn't important, it wasn't redemptive, but once the words were out of his mouth I'm not sure that things like "he didn't really mean that", etc., would have passed muster either.

But I do believe that a person can validly have at least doubts as to the exact mix of "nurture versus nature", and still believe in and be honestly committed to marriage equality. Our religious beliefs are largely, if not exclusively, a matter of choice, yet we consider religious freedom a core matter of civil rights and equality. And we do have some folks in our own GLBT community who are affronted at what they see as the assertion that we need civil rights protection because "we just can't help ourselves" in satisfying our urges". So I guess I can't place myself with those who would demonize him because he's been doing the right thing for what they consider to be an unacceptable reason.

I'm sure there are folks who, if tommorrow full marriage (and by that name) became the law of the land, would say: "No, thanks, I don't want your patronizing equality if you think my sexuality is a choice." Maybe one of them will respond to this.

I don't think it is a "save" (and I kinda resent Huffington Post's dramatic headline on the issue).

As you go on to say, if you actually *listen* to what Richardson was saying, it is a quite profound appeal.

Instead of listening to him self-referentially, try imagining yourself as one of the 90% of the audience, the non-gay part, who we hope might also listen to him.

His thought, then runs like this.

1. For those who are telling you they *know* that it is choice, then I say, I'm not a scientist, I don't know - implicitly saying, you aren't either. (In other words, his epistemology works FOR LGBT, against Christianist certaintists)!

2. The issue then is not one about definition (read, Holy Moral Order) it's about humanity, about doing what is decent, about treating people without discrimination, in the face of companionship and caring.

3. Therefore, because we don't know, we love each other and enact laws that show caring, not prejudice.

It's too bad the the uproar over his comments have also masked one of the few real-world comments about bi-national comments, as well.