Clinton talks; Obama balks

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by Mark Segal & Sarah Blazucki
© 2008
Philadelphia Gay News
Reprinted with permission

The Democratic race for president has been heating up for months. And where once eight contenders graced the national stage, only two have made it to Pennsylvania’s primary (to be held Tuesday, April 22): Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In these months, an alliance of LGBT papers sought to speak with the top three contenders — Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards — to no avail. Now, with the delegate spread hovering around 150, smaller constituencies, including the LGBT community and their superdelegates, are playing a larger role.

Philadelphia Gay News (PGN) invited both Clinton and Obama, as well as presumptive Republican candidate John McCain, to speak with them. Only Clinton granted an interview; the Q&A with her is reprinted below with permission from Philadelphia Gay News.

PGN: I assume that you and President Clinton have gay friends. Can you give me your impression of one of those couples that you socialize with, without giving any names?

Hillary Clinton: Oh my gosh. There are so many of them. I know that Mark [Walsh, Clinton’s national director of LGBT outreach] is on the phone. Let me say this, we don’t get to socialize a lot. But when we do, it’s usually at a big event where we get to see people and spend time with them. This is something I want to do more of as soon as I finish this presidential campaign. It’s sort of hard to pick out people. We go to some events in Washington and New York. I’ve got friends, literally, around the country that I’m close to. It’s part of my life.

PGN: How would you respond to those friends if they asked you why they can’t get married?

HC: What I say is that marriage is in the province of the state, which has actually turned out to be lucky for us, because we didn’t have to get beaten on the Federal Marriage Amendment because we could make, among other arguments, that it was such a stretch for the federal government and it was wrong to enshrine discrimination in the Constitution. And that states are really beginning seriously to deal with the whole range of options, including marriage, both under their own state constitutions and under the legislative approach. I anticipate that there will be a very concerted amount of effort in the next couple of years that will move this important issue forward and different states will take different approaches as they did with marriage over many years and you will see an evolution over time.

PGN: What will you do to improve the immigration policy for same-sex couples?

HC: I think that that’s one of the biggest problems that we’ve got to contend with. Even states that have civil unions, domestic partnerships or even marriage laws are running into roadblocks with the federal government when it comes to federal benefits and privileges. Of course, immigration is a federal responsibility and I am going to do everything I can to eliminate any disparities in any benefits or rights under our law at the federal level so that all people will have available to them every right as an American citizen that they should, and that would include immigration law.

PGN: What changes would you make toward governments that execute gay people, such as Iran, Egypt and Iraq and numerous other countries in the Middle East and Africa? Will you offer political asylum?

HC: I would be very strongly outspoken about this and it would be part of American foreign policy. There are a number of gross human-rights abuses that countries engage in with whom we have relations and we have to be really vigilant and outspoken in our total repudiation of those kinds of actions and do everything we can, including using our leverage on matters such as aid, to change the behavior so we can try to prevent such atrocities from happening.

PGN: In 1948, President Truman issued an executive order banning discrimination based on race. Would you issue an executive order or a signing order with a military appropriations bill to temporarily — until Congress had a chance to deal with it — end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”

HC: If I were legally able to do it. I don’t know what the legal framework would be because you remember that, in the face of what Bill [Clinton] was trying to do in ’93, the act, by veto, proved majorities made prohibitions on doing that. So whether the president has authority to do it by executive order or not, I’m not sure. But I have been committed for more than nine years to eliminating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

PGN: Could you do so via a signing order connected to a military appropriations bill?

HC: No. I don’t think so. I will have that examined, but I don’t think so. What a signing order can do, a signing statement, what Bush has done, is to say you’re not going to enforce certain aspects of a law that’s been passed. This is different. There’s a law already on the books, which says the president cannot waive “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But nobody has ever asked it of me quite like that. I don’t think the president would have the authority. I think we’d have to get it changed by legislation, but I will look into that.

PGN: You co-sponsored the Domestic-Partnership Benefits and Obligation Act for federal employees. Would you support federal domestic-partner legislation to give rights to all LGBT citizens, not just federal employees?

HC: Of course. But I think the reason why I have zeroed in on the Obligations Act is because that’s what’s in the province of the federal government and I think we might be able to get that passed. But I would certainly sign anything that was broader too.

PGN: In states like New Jersey and Massachusetts and others that have passed domestic-partner bills or civil-union bills, one of the major roadblocks they find is the federal tax codes or joint filings for IRS returns. What could we do about that?

HC: That’s one of the laws we have to change. I will have a comprehensive review, and I think a lot of that work has already been done, to look at everything that is discriminatory in the tax code or in any other aspect of federal law. And we will try to eliminate all of that discrimination. I think we will have a good argument, ironically, because I think we can say, look, the states are making determinations about extending rights to same-sex couples in various forms and the federal government should recognize that and should extend the same access to federal benefits across the board. I will very much work to achieve that.

PGN: Should the Department of Education give local school districts and teachers direction on presenting GLBT-positive lesson plans?

HC: That’s an area that you can get direction from the federal government but the federal government doesn’t have any real authority. I think there was some guidance given during the Clinton administration and I will look into that and see if there is some additional guidance that could be given.

PGN: Currently before the Pennsylvania legislature is an anti-gay marriage bill that would be on the Pennsylvania ballot in 2010, when your colleague, Sen. Arlen Specter, is up for reelection. What advice would you give him and our legislators?

HC: Don’t pass it. I really hope that that doesn’t go anywhere. I would be very distressed if Pennsylvania were to adopt that kind of mean-spirited referendum and I hope it won’t happen.

PGN: How would you improve services for GLBT youth and seniors?

HC: I would be guided by advice by the LGBT community about the additional kind of services that would be needed on top of the general services that were available. For example, I’ve done a lot of work in supporting the LGBT community here in New York to deal with the special problems that adolescents face: the high suicide rates, the sense of alienation and the experiences with bullies. I think there’s a lot of very specific and difficult challenges that LGBT young people face. Obviously, I want to protect our young people and I want to give them access to the services that they need. I believe the idea of guidance at schools is important so that schools are well aware of how much more intense the mistreatment of LGBT kids happens to be. I think we need to do everything we can to try to protect our kids and give them a chance to have a productive and safe childhood and adolescence, and I would certainly zero in on that.

PGN: As first lady and as senator, you’ve lent your presence and support to various gay organizations by being present at gay Pride celebrations and so forth. When elected president, would you continue to do such?

HC: To the extent that security would permit. That’s one of the challenges of being president. I don’t think the Secret Service let Bill walk in a parade when he became president. I had a lot more flexibility as first lady. I have more flexibility as a senator. I’ll see how much they try to trim my sails as president.

PGN: If you win the nomination, will you speak with PGN as the Democratic nominee for President?

HC: Absolutely, and I’ll speak to you as President.