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ON TV: ELECTION '08

Discomfort amid comfiness

Most of the Democratic candidates bob and weave on the same-sex marriage issue at the first gay rights forum.

August 11, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

The Democrats showed up on the MTV Networks' gay and lesbian cable channel, Logo TV, for a historic, first-ever televised presidential forum Thursday night on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues.

What anyone watching Logo (which is carried in 27 million homes) saw was a series of one-on-ones -- each candidate interviewed for 20 minutes or so, in the order in which their campaigns accepted the invitation to the forum (Sen. Barack Obama first and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton last).

Call it a job interview, writ rather large, the candidates answering pointed questions from a host (Bloomberg News' Margaret Carlson) and three panelists about their LGBT bona fides.

Now here was a show, the candidates in comfy chairs on a hardwood-floor stage, with rug. In contrast to Tuesday's raucous AFL-CIO-sponsored debate on MSNBC, live from Soldier Field in Chicago, the two-hour LGBT forum, live from a small studio in L.A., played like a closed-circuit broadcast of a living-room fundraiser in a Hancock Park manse of Hollywood money.

Hey, wasn't that liberal mover-and-shaker and Hollywood producer Steve Bing in the audience? I know I saw two of the TV-monied: "How I Met Your Mother" costar Neil Patrick Harris and "Will & Grace" co-creator Max Mutchnick.

Meanwhile, one of the panelists was rock star Melissa Etheridge, whose "I Need to Wake Up," written for "An Inconvenient Truth," won her an Oscar.

"I have heard that you have said in the past that you feel uncomfortable around gay people," she said to John Edwards. "Are you OK right now?" she joked.

"I'm perfectly comfortable," the former senator from North Carolina said, begging to add that she had it wrong because the offending comment was a misquote spread by a rival consultant.

The Republican candidates, Carlson said, have declined to participate in their own such forum. For the Dems, the one-issue, one-evening forum was as much a creation of the explosion of niche channels as it was a microcosm of a powerful interest group.

I'm guessing here, but I bet more Republican candidates will find their way to County Music Television or Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, just as more Democrats (so far) are making their way to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

Democratic candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. was on "The Daily Show" on Wednesday night, and the Delaware senator fully agreed with Stewart's weary gaze at a season of debates and forums that have taken on a "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium" pace.

"We should have a 90-minute debate on nothing but Iraq," Biden said, "and a 90-minute debate on nothing but what's going on with your energy problem."

Well, senator, if this is Thursday, it must be the LGBT forum. Biden, as it happened, had a prior commitment (as did Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut) and couldn't attend the event, televised live and co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Logo.

It all had a certain intimacy -- and tension -- as each candidate was forced to answer whether they would realize, as president, the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Only two of the candidates, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, treated the question as a no-brainer. The others bobbed and weaved and tried to find a crawl space between championing same-sex couples' rights and opposing same-sex marriage.

"I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions," Clinton said.

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paul.brownfield@latimes.com

For more political coverage, go to latimes.com/topoftheticket.

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