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forum statements reveal second possible blunder

forum statements reveal second possible blunder


New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's first blunder during the Logo presidential forum last week was his answer to the question of whether sexual orientation is a choice. But he also got tripped up discussing his initial support for DOMA.

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has clearly been a friend to LGBT people, promoting a domestic-partner bill in his state and backing a number of line items on the "gay agenda," including the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," a rollback of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and an end to immigration blocks against binational same-sex partners.

Yet his performance on the stump has been rife with controversy, from his use of a Spanish term for "faggot" last year to his comment on last week's Logo debate that homosexuality is a "choice."

The "choice" remark drew immediate condemnation from activists and bloggers, obliging the candidate to offer an apology and an explanation (he was tired) the following day, when he went personally to The Advocate's Los Angeles office and spoke with news editor Kerry Eleveld.

Overlooked in the hoopla, however, was an inexplicable misstatement during the debate, one that arguably should have triggered a far greater outcry than the comment about choice. When asked about his 1996 House vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, Richardson told the panel:

"Well, I was the chief deputy whip of the Democrats at the time. President Clinton was president. And at the time the objective in passing DOMA was to fight a huge assault for a constitutional amendment in the Congress to ban marriage. It was sort of a cheap political way to decimate a bad initiative."

This was simply not the case.

The Federal Marriage Amendment, which failed to advance after congressional votes in 2004 and 2006, did not exist in 1996. No one had proposed it. No one had discussed it. No one had even thought of it, and it certainly was not a factor in the passage of DOMA.

The brainchild of Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage, the amendment was first suggested in 2001, when the idea fell on deaf ears. It was only after the Massachusetts supreme judicial court legalized same-sex marriage in its 2003 ruling that the amendment won solid support within the Republican Party.

It's true, as Sen. Hillary Clinton noted when it was her turn on the hot seat, that DOMA was eventually trotted out as a key talking point in the fight over the amendment in 2004 and 2006, when opponents could make the argument that the amendment was "unnecessary," thanks to the federal law.

"I don't know that we could have defeated [the amendment] if we had not had DOMA," Clinton said last week. "That, if anything, has provided great protection against what was clearly the Republican just cynically use marriage as a political tool."

Clinton (who also calls for the repeal of DOMA's federal ban on recognizing same-sex couples) appeared to be justifying DOMA after the fact, a stance that most activists would find hard to swallow.

But unlike Richardson, the former first lady did not link the original legislation to a showdown eight years in the future, a contest that had yet to be imagined by anyone on either side of the issue. Richardson's false memory of these fairly recent events is difficult to explain. (Ann Rostow,

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