Hits and Misses at the LGBT Candidate Forum

Stumbling to make separate sound like anything other than unequal the Democratic front-runners swore allegiance to civil unions for LGBT Americans in Thursday night's HRC/Logo sponsored candidate forum. I was privileged to be in the studio audience for the historic gathering of presidential candidates addressing LGBT issues to an LGBT audience -- an event hardly even imaginable an election or two ago. It was an honor to be there and one of the questions a reporter asked me afterwards was "did you hear anything new?"

What was new and important and worth celebrating, I believe, was the willingness of six leading Democratic candidates for President of the United States to address rather than dodge questions of concern to the LGBT community. Marriage Equality. Work place discrimination. "Don't Ask Don't Tell." Hate Crimes. Yet I yearned to hear about the OTHER issues that impact LGBT Americans -- the war in Iraq, global climate change, poverty and a sustainable economy to name a few.

For example, as the mother of a son on active duty in Iraq I would have loved to hear more of their plans for getting us out of Iraq! And so I left the forum thinking that the narrowness of the questions did not adequately represent the broadness of the concerns of LGBT Americans for the health, welfare and future of their country. I left simultaneously rejoicing in the "one giant step forward for 'LGBTkind'" and sobered at how many steps forward we still need to go.

That said, what was also new was the clarity of the commitment to including LGBT Americans in the "liberty and justice for all" equation. Again and again ALL the candidates came back to fairness and equality for all Americans as a core value for them and for their campaign. And that is something to rejoice and be glad in.

What wasn't new -- or sadly, even surprising -- was the bobbing and weaving around "The M Word": Marriage. Gravel and Kucinich -- who have roughly the same chance of being elected as I have being invited for tea at the Bush White House -- stepped up and called it like it is: equal rights for all Americans doesn't mean marriage for some and unions for others. The others all had their hedges trimmed and ready to go: Richardson wants something "achievable," Obama "isn't there yet," Edwards is "on a journey" and Clinton's reasons were "personal."

Truth be told, I couldn't help but wonder if Senator Clinton's "personal" reason for supporting civil unions over civil marriage is that personally she'd really like to be elected President of the United States. Politically I totally "get it"- - marriage is just not the ditch the Democratic front- runners are going to die in. At least not this year.

Another notable moment was the sadly stunning crash-and-burn of Governor Richardson in response to Melissa Etheridge's "is homosexuality a choice" question. A valiant defender and advocate for LGBT issues in New Mexico his stumbling, halting response was a very "real" moment in what was arguably the least scripted of the presidential candidate forums so far in this election cycle. He didn't do himself any good with the target audience last night but he certainly illustrated how some deeply held convictions elude sound biting and deserve just a yes or no answer.

Finally, as a person of faith I was deeply gratified to hear across-the-board commitment from the candidates to return the White House to support of the separation of church and state: to end the infusion of public policy with religious ideology -- a sad hallmark of this current administration.

Moving on, I'm encouraged to have more than one horse in this race. And I'm tired of hearing who isn't electable because of what. The American people -- L or G or B or T or anywhere in between -- deserve better than an election decided on race or gender or hairstyle. They deserve the kind of frank exchanges we heard last night -- the hits and the misses -- and HRC and Logo deserve thanks for helping make it happen. It was an historic opportunity for all Americans as the once invisible LGBT citizens of this great country took their place alongside all the rest calling this nation to be the best that it can be.

Susan is an Episcopal priest on staff at All Saints Church, Pasadena CA, the President of Integrity, the Episcopal LGBT lobby group and a member of the HRC Religion Council.