Richardson having a bad week at the debates

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Following what several people called a “forgettable” performance at Tuesday’s AFL-CIO forum in Chicago, Gov. Bill Richardson committed a major gaffe at a forum sponsored by two gay-rights oriented organizations. Pam Spaulding (who also blogs at Pandagon) has a great post up higlighting the problem over at Pam’s House Blend:

MS. ETHERIDGE:  Thank you.

Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?

GOV. RICHARDSON:  It’s a choice.  It’s —

MS. ETHERIDGE:  I don’t know if you understand the question. (Soft laughter.)  Do you think I — a homosexual is born that way, or do you think that around seventh grade we go, “Ooh, I want to be gay”?

GOV. RICHARDSON:  Well, I — I’m not a scientist.  It’s — you know, I don’t see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as people as a matter of human decency.  I see it as a matter of love and companionship and people loving each other. You know I don’t like to categorize people.  I don’t like to, like, answer definitions like that that, you know, perhaps are grounded in science or something else that I don’t understand.

Though Richardson later issued a clarification of his comments (see below), his initial response was apparently not well received:

Let’s just say it right now – Bill Richardson self-immolated tonight on live TV. I haven’t seen anyone fumble a question like this so badly.
[…] Karen Ocamb said there were gasps, and hisses in the audience. A Richardson supporter, Richard Zaldavar, said, that it’s a sentiment in the Latino and black communities that homosexuality is a choice (ostensibly to rationalize Richardson stepping on that land mine). He was given ample opportunity to extract himself from the situation, but it really went downhill from there. One other hurdle he didn’t clear was a direct question from Joe Solmonese about what the governor would do if the New Mexico legislature presented him with a marriage equality bill. He wouldn’t answer the question.

As I said before, Richardson’s campaign issued a clarification on his response on the choice question:

“Let me be clear — I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice. But I’m not a scientist, and the point I was trying to make is that no matter how it happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law. That is what I believe, that is what I have spent my career fighting for. I ask that people look at my record and my actions, and they will see I have been a true supporter of the (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) community.”

Steve Terrell’s article in the New Mexican has some more reaction from gay rights supporters:

Lane Hudson, live blogging on The Huffington Post, wrote, “He just said that homosexuality is a choice. What a freakin’ moron! He just lost every semblance of gay support. It is OVER. Take him off the stage. … I’m done listening to him and so is the rest of LGBT America. DONE. If he didn’t get it the first time, he doesn’t need to hold the office of dog catcher.”

Some were even more critical about Richardson’s statement during the debate that civil unions were the same as marriage.

“Another person to cross off the list is Bill Richardson,” said a post on The Gay Political Issues blog. “He was dodging nearly all the questions, answering them very vaguely, and when asked about gay marriage, he directly answered ‘I’m not there yet.’.”

On a semi-related note, a recent study((via TAPPED)) showed that gays and lesbians overwhelmingly turnout in elections:

The study this spring by San Francisco-based Community Marketing Inc. found that an eye-popping 92.5% of gay men reported that they voted in the 2004 presidential race, and almost 84% said they cast ballots in the 2006 midterm election. Among lesbians, the results were almost as impressive; nearly 91% said they voted in 2004; for the midterm, the figure was 78%.

By comparison, the Washington-based Committee for the Study of the American Electorate put the turnout for all Americans eligible to vote at about 61% in 2004 and roughly 40% in 2006.

That’s the type of group you want to court: dedicated voters. Richardson will likely have to work hard to win back their support.