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February 29, 2008

Clinton sticks with civil
unions after N.J. report

But it ‘raises some serious concerns’
by calling them second class, she says

“Senator Clinton, will you go on the record saying that civil unions are not equal to marriage?” asked a reporter.

“No,” replied the Democratic presidential candidate.

Hillary Clinton, one of the two remaining Democratic candidates for president, had a conference call February 27 with three LGBT weekly newspapers: the Gay People’s Chronicle, Tammy Nash of the Dallas Voice, and Michael Daniels of Outlook Weekly.

Texas and Ohio are considered critical for the senator to win on March 4 in order to keep her candidacy alive.

The LGBT vote in Ohio and Texas is in play and will, according to most common analyses, be critical to which candidate wins the Democratic nomination because the race is so close.

Clinton began the 15-minute call with a statement, then answered a few questions.

“I am committed to the fair and equal treatment of LGBT Americans,” she said.

Clinton accused president George W. Bush of using LGBT equality as an issue to divide the nation adding, “No community has been made more invisible than the LGBT community by this administration, and I want to change that.”

She was asked about a February 19 report by New Jersey state commission on civil unions that called them a “failed experiment” and an “invitation to discriminate.”

According to the panel, civil unions create a little-understood, “second class” category of citizens that is often more vulnerable to federal discrimination.

Both Clinton and her rival, Senator Barack Obama, oppose marriage equality in favor of civil unions.

“I agree with my friend [New Jersey Governor] John Corzine that the report raises some serious concerns,” Clinton said.

Corzine has also said that he would sign a marriage equality bill, but not in an election year.

Clinton, however, stands by civil unions as her preferred way to provide benefits and protection to same-sex couples, and opposes marriage equality.

“The way civil unions are in place in Vermont is one way to achieve” success with them, Clinton said.

The New Jersey findings, however, contained testimony from Vermonters that civil unions have many of the same problems there. Vermont set up a similar commission to study its civil unions a year ago.

“And that’s the right thing [for Vermont] to do,” said Clinton.

“Look,” she said, “the biggest problem is the federal benefits, and I want to change the law.”

Asked how she would do that, Clinton said, “By advocating for it.”

Clinton said passing the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligation Act is the first thing that needs to be passed.

That bill would provide domestic partnership benefits to all federal civilian employees on the same basis as spousal benefits.

She was a co-sponsor of the bill in 2006. It has not been re-introduced in the current Congress.

The New Jersey report, however, found that people who are not federal employees are also likely to run afoul of many federal laws, including the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, which governs the benefits of private-sector self-insured employers.

Clinton avoided comment on this, saying, “When the states recognize benefits to same-sex couples, equality can be achieved.”

She defended what she called “the tradition in America of leaving marriage to the states,” and shifted no closer to a position of marriage equality.

“The states determine the [marriage] law,” Clinton said.

Clinton also defended her unique proposal to repeal only sections two and three of the federal “defense of marriage act” signed by her husband in 1996.

Section two allows states to ignore marriages and civil unions performed in other states. Section three limits marriage and the benefits of marriage to opposite sex couples for federal purposes, such as taxes and Social Security.

Section one, which Clinton would allow to stand, is the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

According to the testimony in the New Jersey report and elsewhere, it is that definition of marriage that allows for same-sex couples to be excluded from federal benefits and protections.

Asked about that, Clinton, a lawyer, said, “That’s not how I read or understand it.”

Clinton said she believes that the repeal of section three alone is sufficient, and acknowledged the likely political backlash if the federal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman is repealed.

“My strategy toward equal access is the most likely to succeed,” Clinton said.

Clinton also said she would have an LGBT outreach person in her administration, and would consider LGBT people for cabinet level positions.

Her husband’s administration was the first to have such a liaison position, and he was the first to appoint a gay ambassador.

Clinton said should she not become the next president, she would continue to advocate for LGBT equality.

“I’m proud of my long commitment to these issues,” Clinton said.

The Gay People’s Chronicle began trying to get live interviews with both candidates after the Wisconsin primary on February 18.

The Obama campaign declined an interview.


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