Gay rights could get a voice in the next Republican debate with the announcement that former two-term governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, has been added to the lineup.
Although Johnson announced his candidacy in April from New Hampshire, and he was allowed into the first Republican debate in South Carolina, organizers have shut him out ever since because of low poll numbers. Each debate organizer decides at which threshold it will set the bar for entry. Fox and Google are sponsoring the debate in Orlando, Florida, on Thursday, and their rules require hitting 1% in five recent national polls.
“I am bringing forward a voice to the debate that has gone largely unheard thus far and I am convinced that a lot of voters are ready to listen," Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson wasn't asked during the first debate about his views on same-sex marriage (only Ron Paul was asked), but he is on record elsewhere as firmly in the column for marriage equality. When candidates such as Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann (and later Rick Perry) signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage to ban same-sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution, it was Johnson who scolded them.
"If candidates who sign this pledge somehow think they are scoring some points with some core constituency of the Republican Party, they are doing so at the peril of writing off the vast majority of Americans who want no part of this ‘pledge’ and its offensive language," said Johnson. "The Republican Party cannot afford to have a presidential candidate who condones intolerance, bigotry and the denial of liberty to the citizens of this country. If we nominate such a candidate, we will never capture the White House in 2012."
Johnson advocates for "gay unions" as an extension of personal freedom. "I think the government ought to get out of the marriage business," he told ABC News, echoing libertarian-sounding statements made by Paul. (Watch the interview below.) It's not clear what Johnson would support if it's not an option for the government to stop deciding who is married.
Johnson is also an advocate of legalizing marijuana so it can be regulated and taxed while helping reduce drug-related violence on the border. He calls for a balanced budget in the first year of his term and threatens to veto anything that goes over budget.
Meanwhile, openly gay presidential candidate Fred Karger still can't get into the debates. Karger sent a letter to Fox and Google earlier this month asking to be let in, claiming he'd met the same threshold as he had the last time Fox held a debate. In that case, he filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, which is investigating whether Fox unfairly changed its rules after Karger said he qualified.
Fox said the polls that Karger cited (and continues to cite) were invalid because they were either too old or the pollsters had use the Internet to solicit responses.
Politico reports that the latest iteration of the Fox rules requires that candidates reach 1% in the last five polls in which their name was included.