Zero LGBT questions at one debate, a flood at another

Michele Bachmann

There was a complete absence of questions about LGBT-related issues at last night’s (September 7) debate among eight of the announced Republican presidential candidates. That stood in stark contrast to just two days earlier (September 5) when LGBT issues were among the dominant issues for five of the candidates.

Both events were nationally televised. Last night’s was broadcast by sponsor MSNBC, who had two journalists—one from NBC and one from—asking questions. The September 5 event was broadcast by CNN, which provided off-stage commentary; but the questions were asked by three right-wing activists: U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, U.S. Rep. Steven King, and conservative law professor Robert George.

At the MSNBC event Wednesday night, the questions focused on the economy, jobs, health care mandates, Social Security, the death penalty, and immigration. Jobs and the economy were big issues at the CNN forum, co-sponsored with DeMint’s Palmetto Freedom Forum. But the panelists also used the opportunity to deliver extended remarks about their own opinions concerning LGBT related matters while purportedly asking questions of the candidates.

George, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, asked a loaded and misleading question, directed to longshot candidate Herman Cain. He told Cain that, after Illinois passed its civil unions law, the state government “decided to exclude certain religiously affiliated foster care and adoption agencies, including Catholic and Protestant agencies, because those agencies, in line with the teachings of their faith, cannot in conscience place children with same-sex partners.”

Noting that about half of the state’s funds to support foster care and adoption come from the federal government, George asked Cain “whether the federal government should be subsidizing states that discriminate against Catholic and other religious adoption agencies?” It was, of course, a sort of “Through the Looking Glass” question that simply ignored the fact that Catholic Charities and other religiously oriented foster care and adoption agencies are free to operate “in line with the teachings of their faith” on their own dime. But when they ask for millions of dollars in government subsidies, they are expected to obey the state’s laws, including laws against discrimination.

Cain said, “The federal government should not be subsidizing any situation where it’s discriminatory against any legitimate religion in this country.” A journalist might have asked Cain which religions he considers “legitimate,” or whether he believes religiously oriented adoption agencies should be able to violate state laws prohibiting discrimination based on race.

But, clearly, George wasn’t interested in Cain’s answer; he was interested in maximizing his time on national television to promote his unique, and anti-gay, view of the law. He jumped quickly to pose another question—this time about same-sex marriage specifically.

“All the major candidates for presidency in 2012, including President Obama, believe that marriage is properly defined in our laws as the union of husband and wife,” said George. “How does your own position differ from that of President Obama on that issue, and what would you do as president to defend marriage so defined?”

Cain said he supports the Defense of Marriage Act and “traditional marriage” and that he would use the bully pulpit of the presidency to support his view.

Again, George did not press Cain to answer the question about how he differs from President Obama on the issue. Instead, he quickly tried to imply the “breakdown of marriage” in this country is associated with poverty.

“Where we have the breakdown of the marriage culture, we have poverty,” claimed George. “I’m a person who believes that the Republican Party should be in the vanguard of fighting poverty.” And that, he said, means “we need to be in the vanguard of rebuilding the marriage culture.”

Newt Gingrich, without mentioning same-sex marriage specifically, told the audience he believes Congress should “eliminate the right of the courts to review certain things” and that the president and Congress have the “obligation to defend the constitution against judges who are tyrannical and seek to impose un-American values on the United States.”

George asked Gingrich whether he would support allowing each state set its own definition of marriage, leaving the matter to the courts or Congress, or pushing for a constitutional amendment. Gingrich said he’d support either a constitutional amendment or other action by Congress.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann complained at the South Carolina forum that President Obama said he would not “uphold” the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). None of the three questioners challenged the validity of the statement, though it is false.

President Obama has said he would not defend DOMA as constitutional because he doesn’t believe DOMA is constitutional.

But facts are vulnerable to blurring on the presidential campaign trail, especially by Republican candidates seeking to replace the current incumbent Democrat. And it’s not always clear whether the blur is a product of ignorance or intent.

Several announced Republican candidates were denied the opportunity to participate in either forum, including openly gay candidate Fred Karger.

Fox News, the only polling entity that includes Karger’s name on its survey list, found less than one percent of 341 Republican primary voters supported Karger in its August 29-31 survey.

The latest polling of registered Republican voters shows Perry with 29 percent of the support, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with 23 percent, Sarah Palin (who has not announced any plans to run) at 14 percent, and all others in the single digits. The poll was conducted by ABC and the Washington Post on 1,001 adults August 29 to September 1.

Another poll conducted at the same time by and George Washington University on 1,000 likely Republican voters did not include Palin. It found 36 percent for Perry, 17 percent for Romney, and 10 percent each for Bachmann of Minnesota and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

CNN is hosting the next debate, this time with the Tea Party Express, in Tampa, Florida, on Monday, September 12, at 8 p.m. The news organization is welcoming suggestions for questions to ask the participants.

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