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An interview with Hillary Clinton: Reiterates support for Gay issues, knocks Obama over McClurkin flap
An interview with Hillary Clinton: Reiterates support for Gay issues, knocks Obama over McClurkin flap
by Kevin Naff - Courtesy of the Washington Blade

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) reiterated her "strong" support for a range of Gay rights initiatives in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Sunday.

She called for extending federal recognition to same-sex couples, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and rejected claims that she doesn't speak forcefully enough on Gay issues - something that supporters of rival Sen. Barack Obama have asserted during the campaign.

"I talk about Gay issues frequently," she said. "I've been a longtime friend of the Gay community - I've been talking about these issues since 1999 when I first ran for Senate and went on record as the first major candidate to say we're going to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' I talk about ending discrimination all the time."

She responded to critics who say Obama is more likely to address Gay issues in front of a non-Gay audience.

"I find it ironic since Sen. Obama had his gospel tour with [Donnie] McClurkin that he and his supporters would take credit for that." McClurkin, a black minister who participated in a South Carolina gospel tour for Obama's campaign, claims to be "ex-Gay." Clinton's remarks came just two days before Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., voters head to the polls in the "Potomac Primary."

Obama holds commanding leads in all three jurisdictions, according to recent polls. The interview was conducted just before Clinton announced the departure of her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle.

Clinton and Obama have both said they oppose same-sex marriage. The substantive distinction between their positions is that Obama has called for a full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, while Clinton supports repealing only the section that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples.

She again defended that position as a necessary means of thwarting efforts at passing a federal constitutional amendment to ban Gay marriage. "I believe that my position reflects the experience I had fighting against the Federal Marriage Amendment," she said. "At the time, I was chair of the Democratic Steering & Outreach Committee and I worked hand-in-hand with [the Human Rights Campaign] and other members of the LGBT community to stop the amendment.

"We'd already seen the success the Republican majority had had in 2002, 2004 in using this as a wedge issue. I was able to explain to other senators that DOMA ensured marriage would be left to the states - that was critical in defeating the amendment. It gave us an argument with both Republicans and Democrats."

In 2002 and 2004, Republicans controlled Congress, but now, a year after Democrats took control of both houses, Clinton warned that it would be wrong to assume it is safe to push for a full DOMA repeal.

"We cannot count on the political atmosphere staying favorable," she said. "That's something we've learned to our unfortunate detriment and I think we are in a much stronger position to bury forever the Federal Marriage Amendment and other mean-spirited, discriminatory legislation." She repeated her call for a repeal of Section 3 of DOMA, because it prohibits the federal government from recognizing decisions made by the states in terms of enacting civil unions, domestic partnerships or, in the case of Massachusetts, full marriage rights.

"I think extending federal benefits is a very important step forward," she said. "I don't see why a same-sex couple in California, which has a domestic partnership law, should be able to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act if one of them is ill, while a couple in another state without such a law cannot.

"I would like to see federal benefits extended to same-sex couples that meet certain standards of commitment regardless of the state in which they reside. Too many couples cannot share life decisions, or jointly own property or take care of one another within a recognized legal framework. I want to change that."

To get started on the path of federal recognition for same-sex couples, she recommended that Congress pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act.

The act, introduced in the Senate in December by Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) would make the domestic partners of federal government employees eligible for federal health benefits, the Family & Medical Leave program, long-term care, insurance and retirement benefits. The bill, which has been around since the late 1990s, remains in committee; Clinton and Obama have signed on as co-sponsors.

Asked about prospects for the measure, Clinton said she recognizes it will be "challenging" but that she plans to work with HRC and others to help advance it.

As for other pending Gay rights legislation, Clinton said she was not aware of a timetable for Senate consideration of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the House last year after supporters removed a provision aimed at protecting transgender workers. She declined to comment on the House strategy of stripping the trans provision, but urged the Senate to consider a Trans-inclusive bill.

"I would prefer an inclusive bill in the Senate and have been urging that that's what the Senate would consider," she said. "That would be in keeping with my position."

Clinton also reiterated her support for the Uniting American Families Act, which would permit partners of U.S. citizens to obtain permanent resident status.

"I'm supportive of it and the strategy was to do it as part of comprehensive immigration reform," she said. "We still need to do comprehensive immigration reform & that is my preference."

On the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy enacted under her husband's watch, Clinton pledged to work hard for a repeal as soon as possible. "We have to get a coalition together that will support repealing that legislation that will give us the authority to do what I've been advocating, which is allowing people to serve based on their desire and commitment to service without regard to sexual orientation," she said.

Clinton said Congress defied President Bill Clinton over the issue and approved the policy by veto-proof majorities in both houses, effectively tying his hands. Back in August, at the HRC-Logo presidential forum, she described "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as a "transitional" policy. She declined to elaborate when asked to clarify that remark given President Clinton's failure to revisit the policy during his eight years in office.

Instead, she asserted that lifting the Gay ban on military service has worked well for key allies like Great Britain and Israel.

"In the time that has passed since 1993, more and more distinguished military officers understand why we need to do this," she said. When asked if her support for Gay rights measures would include forceful advocacy, she replied, "absolutely."

"I took the lead in ensuring that partners who died on 9/11 were given benefits. I have been very strongly in support of the Domestic Partnership Benefits Act, so I continue to take a leadership role."

She also said she would become the first U.S. president to march in a Gay Pride parade and that she had not heard about former Vice President Al Gore's recent video endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Visit the Washington Blade online at www.washblade.com

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