The town hall presidential debate on Tuesday night included references to social issues, such as women’s rights, immigration and gun violence but as in the previous debate, there was no explicit mention of LGBT issues.
During the debate at Hofstra University, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney brought up his belief in marriage as a means to reduce the culture of violence in response to a question about banning assault weapons, saying “we need moms and dads helping raise kids” and espousing “the benefit of having two parents in the home.”
“A lot of great single moms, single dads,” Romney said. “But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone — that’s a great idea because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically.”
Romney never explicitly said he was excluding opposite-sex couples when touting the importance of a “two-parent family” as the correct way to raise children, but didn’t take the opportunity to say that marriage should be between one man, one woman.
He has previously stated that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry and supports a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage throughout the country.
The Romney campaign didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to clarify the marriage remarks, but LGBT rights groups on both sides of the aisle had differing interpretations of the candidate’s intended meaning.
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said even though Romney didn’t mention same-sex couples in his remarks, the candidate’s past hostility toward LGBT people speaks for itself.
“Whether or not it was intentional, Mitt Romney has absolutely no respect for LGBT families,” Davis said. “His opposition to marriage equality and even civil unions makes clear that he really doesn’t believe our families are equal or deserving of the same status as other families.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he didn’t believe Romney’s remarks were exclusionary based on comments he’s made at other times.
“I don’t think that was intended to be an exclusionary statement because he has made comments in support on [same-sex parent] adoption, and later in his closing comments, he made a reference to all of us being children of God,” Cooper said.
Romney once articulated that same-sex parent adoption was a “right” over the course of the presidential campaign, but later clarified his position in May to state he merely acknowledges the right of states to enable adoption by same-sex parents if they choose.
President Obama made a reference to opposing discrimination during the presidential debate in response to a question on pay equity for women, though he said nothing explicit on LGBT issues.
“And we’ve also got to make sure that in every walk of life, we do not tolerate discrimination,” Obama said. “That’s been one of the hallmarks of my administration. I’m going to continue to push on this issue for the next four years.”
Obama supports marriage equality and pushed for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as president — although he hasn’t spelled out what he would do to further advance LGBT rights if re-elected.
But these were the only times that any discussion remotely related to LGBT issues took place at the debate in Hempstead, N.Y. It’s unlikely LGBT issues will come up during the final debate next week because it’ll focus on foreign policy.
But other social issues emerged during the debate. On immigration, Romney said he doesn’t support amnesty for undocumented immigrants or offering them legal driver’s licenses, but took Obama to task for not accomplishing immigration reform over the course of his first term. Obama criticized Romney for his hard-line views on the issue, noting the GOP candidate has said he’d veto the DREAM Act.
Speaking about the inclusion of women in his administration, Romney made a gaffe when he said he was brought “binders full of women” as governor of Massachusetts that he said led him to appoint more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, was disappointed by the lack of LGBT inclusion in the debate.
“In a debate that reduced marriage to a remedy for gun violence and workplace equality to women in a binder, it was hard for LGBT folks to see ourselves as part of a substantive and robust political conversation,” Cronk said. “The partisan folks will surely come out of the woodwork over the next few days to claim victory for one side or the other, but we still haven’t seen either candidate describe a path to victory for LGBT Americans — to be fully equal under the law.”
Most observers said Obama needed a win during the debate to come back after what was deemed a listless performance during the previous debate that preceded a drop for him in the polls. According to a CNN poll made public after the debate, 46 percent of respondents said Obama won the debate, compared with 39 percent for Romney.
But another poll of undecided voters showed mixed views. A CBS News/Knowledge networks poll of undecided voters who watched the debate found 37 percent said Obama won, 30 percent favored Mitt Romney and 33 percent called the debate a tie.