(Here's the Hillary Clinton story)

When LOGO announced the first ever television forum of gay and lesbian candidates, two thoughts came to mind. Either Democratic presidential candidates no longer feared the “gay friendly” label, or they did -- but it didn’t matter because (a) the gay rights lobby is too important a constituency to shaft and/or (b) the candidates believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s helpful to look at this debate through two lenses: the hopeful lens of the gay community and the skeptical lens of the pundit who is always peering around the corner at the general election.

Assessing the body language of the candidates to see who was the most comfortable is probably best left to that "expert" who Bill O"Reilly interviews a few times a month, Obama's extreme fluency with the nuance of gay rights issues was married with language that did not seem contrived or out-directed. Perhaps he expresses the worldview of his (younger) generation.

Both Obama and Sen. John Edwards were pressed to explain their stances against gay marriage – that’s the holy grail for many (though by no means all) of the gay community.

Obama was at his best. Though he dipped into the lingua franca at times (“DOMA, strong civil unions”), he refused to condescend to the audience and refused to compromise even as he was questioned fairly sharply: “You’re letting religion own the word marriage,” he was told. His own position was cast as “decidedly old school.”

But why not allow the gays to use the word “marriage?” Obama: “Semantics might be important to some. What I’m concerned about is making sure legal rights are available to all people.” Is the gay rights movement the same as the civil rights movement? Obama: “I’m always very cautious about getting into comparisons of victimology.” That said, the brunt of his answers turned on that very comparison – how he got into politics because “I don’t like people looking down on other people.” There were some questions he didn’t precisely answer, but he managed to not answer in such a sophisticated and – to this audience – compassionate way, that it didn’t really matter. It’s hard to say for sure, but it didn’t seem as if any answer will pose a problem for him later.

John Edwards, too, was strong: he recalled a recent visit to a Los Angeles home for out gay kids whose parents kicked them out. He threw in an Ann Coulter mention. He compared the experience of gay Americans with the experience of blacks in the South. He denied Bob Shrum’s claim that he ever said he wasn’t comfortable around gay people. He said forthrightly that he still opposed gay marriage but agreed with Obama about a “strong” array of civil rights for gays. He said he would accept and support a staff member who changed genders. He said kids should be taught about homosexuality although he wasn’t prepared to say what grade level curriculum should include it.

Dennis Kucinich was and is beloved by the gay community.

Bill Richardson seemed a little bit out of sorts but survived.

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