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If the election were held today…
A look at the top Democratic contenders for president

by Mark Smith
Let’s face it, the current slate of Democratic frontrunners chomping at the bit to be the next president of the United States are without a doubt the most photogenic crowd ever seen vying for the title.

Sure they’re nice to look at and all of them are relatively liberal — but what about their voting records on issues of concern for the LGBT community? Are they standing beside us, or against us?

At press time, former First Lady and current New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner and thought by many to be the best hope for the Democratic Party in ’08.

Darryl Logsdon, a Charlotte resident and a former board member of the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Community Center, says he’ll throw his support behind Clinton.

“She’s by far the most qualified,” says Logsdon. “Brilliantly smart — and that is badly needed after the last seven years. She has the longest and most solid record of real support for gays and lesbians. 

“While she does not support marriage equality, the other candidates don’t either,” Logsdon continues. “And we already know she will support us in all other areas that count — appointments to courts and federal positions, employment equality and setting the tone for a national dialogue on equality.

“The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and she’s always been there for us.”
Chris Cannon, who works for Replacements Ltd. in Greensboro, says he’s standing by Clinton, as well.

“Right now, I believe that she is the only candidate who is experienced and seasoned enough to combat right-wing attacks that are geared towards LGBT Americans, minorities and women,” says Cannon.

“She is a strong communicator and negotiator and will work hard to build bridges with world leaders and make our reputation in the world more positive,” Cannon continues. “It would be nice to have someone in office that the leaders in the world can respect again.”

So what do we know about Clinton?

Born Oct. 26, 1947, she currently serves as the junior U.S. senator from N.Y. Her husband, of course, is Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the U.S.

Clinton was elected to the Senate in 2000, becoming the first FirsLady elected to public office and the first female senator to represent N.Y. She was re-elected in 2006. As senator, she sits on the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on Environment and Public Works, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Special Committee on Aging.
Now what’s her stance on LGBT issues? For the most part, it’s pretty good.

She agrees that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” needs to be repealed.

“Fitness to serve in the military should be based on one’s conduct, not one’s sexual orientation,” she said on a 1999 episode of “Inside Politics.”

She may not support same-sex marriage per se, but she’s close. In an interview with CNN on Feb. 11, 2000 she said: “We ought to be providing domestic partnership benefits for people who are in homosexual and lesbian relationships.”

Let’s look at her voting record and ratings:
• Voted no on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. (June 2006)
• Voted yes on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes. (June 2002)
• Rated 60 percent by the ACLU, indicating a mixed civil rights voting record. (December 2002)
• Rated 0 percent by the Christian Coalition: considered to be an “anti-family” voting record.

(December 2003)
Charlie Smith, a real estate agent in Charleston, says he believes our next president should be Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — who’s currently at second place in the polls.

“If the election were held next week, I’d vote for Barack Obama because I want that much change in this country,” says Smith. “Obama doesn’t talk about what the ‘inside the Beltway’ Democrats tell him he has to talk about. He talks about what’s important — whether it has the official stamp of approval or not. I respect that in any candidate for public office.”

Rev. Tonyia Rawls, a minister at the Unity Fellowship Church in Charlotte, says that she thinks Hillary Clinton is the most qualified — but because of the political baggage Clinton carries, Rawls doesn’t believe she would be allowed to govern free from an unreasonable amount of political and social burden.

That said, Rawls now thinks Obama is the man.
“Right now our nation needs someone that the majority can rally around to set our nation on a corrective course,” says Rawls. “He is brilliant, shown he can raise money, shown he has the “it” factor, which is essential to cross party lines and mobilize people. 

“I believe he has what it takes to manage our nation and engage with a world that is increasingly complex. We live in a time when no one man, woman, party or race of people can make this happen. If America is to survive and return to her former status in the world, it will take all of us working together. I think Obama has the best shot at making this happen.”

Here’s what we know about his background:  
Obama is the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois. According to the U.S. Senate Historical Office, he is the fifth African-American Senator in U.S. history and the only African-American currently serving in the U.S. Senate.

Initially elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, four years later he made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He won reelection to the state Senate in 2002, running unopposed. In 2004 he ran for an open seat in the U.S. Senate. Midway through the campaign, Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and became a nationally known political figure. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004 with a landslide 70 percent of the vote.

It’s true, Obama doesn’t mince words when it comes to what he thinks. During the Illinois Senate debate in 2004 he made it clear that he felt Republicans were using the issue of same-sex marriage like a game card.

“I don’t think marriage is a civil right,” he responded, “but I think that not being discriminated against is a civil right. I think making sure that we don’t engage in the sort of gay-bashing that, I think, has unfortunately dominated this campaign — not just here in Illinois, but across the country — is unfortunate and that kind of mean-spirited attacks on homosexuals is something that the people of Illinois generally have rejected.”

Obama has said he doesn’t support same-sex marriage, but he does support civil unions and gay equality.

Where is he on other key LGBT issues?
• He believes sexual orientation should be included in anti-discrimination laws. (July 1998)
• He voted no on a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. (June 2006)

Matt Hill Comer, a Triad area activist, says he’s supporting former N.C. Senator and 2004 Vice Presidential Candidate John Edwards, the current number three Democratic candidate.

“Edwards has been very upfront and direct in his support for ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” says Comer. “He also supports providing civil unions or other arrangements for LGBT people, as well he has openly and directly stated that he does not believe homosexuality is a sin — something I imagine is difficult for any Southern Baptist to admit.”

Edwards was born June 10, 1953, in Seneca, S.C. A one-term U.S.Senator from N.C., he defeated incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth in North Carolina’s 1998 Senate election. He eventually became the Democratic candidate for vice president, the running mate of presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. After Edwards and Kerry lost the election, Edwards formed the One America Committee and was appointed director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.

So what has the former Senator had to say about LGBT issues?
Perhaps the best-known comment he’s made to date came at the end of 2006 in an interview when he was asked directly about his feelings regarding gay marriage. “It’s easy for me to say, ‘Civil unions, yes, partnership benefits, yes,’’’ he said. But on same-sex marriage, he said, “I’m just not there yet.’’

For many in the LGBT community the single word “yet” has been viewed as a symbolic wink that indicates “just wait ’til I get elected.” Whether that is the case or not, Edwards has a good history with LGBT issues.

• Opposed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
• Voted yes on adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes. (June 2002)
• Voted yes on expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation. (June 2000)
• Rated 60 percent by the ACLU, indicating a mixed civil rights voting record. (December 2002)

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