Kucinich and Gravel can both talk about l-o-v-e.
Will anyone talk about sex?
MS. CARLSON: Welcome back to "The Visible Vote '08," a
presidential forum presented by LOGO and the Human Rights Campaign
This is an historic opportunity: presidential candidates
speaking directly to a national LGBT television audience for the first
Our next guest, Mike Gravel, served as an elected official in
Alaska , beginning in the statehouse in 1963 and as a United States
senator from 1969 to 1981. Join me in welcoming former Senator Mike
Hi, Senator. Margaret Carlson.
MR. GRAVEL: Margaret.
MS. CARLSON: Senator Gravel, thanks for joining us. Wonderful
to have you here.
MR. GRAVEL: Thank you for having me.
MS. CARLSON: Well, we're delighted.
Melissa is going to begin our questioning.
MS. ETHERIDGE: Great.
Hello. I'm so grateful that you are here. You are unusual --
(laughter) -- and you --
MR. GRAVEL: Well, I've heard that said.
MS. ETHERIDGE: Yes. (Laughter.)
You are unusual for your generation of straight white men.
(Laughter.) But you actually --
MR. GRAVEL: Wow, Melissa, be careful. (Chuckles.)
MS. ETHERIDGE: But you actually support same-sex marriage. How
do you speak to men of your generation? And how do you speak just to
your generation in general about your issues to convince them?
MR. GRAVEL: Before I answer that, let me just -- I want to thank
my friends --
MS. ETHERIDGE: Okay.
MR. GRAVEL: -- the Harvey Milk Club in San Francisco , the gays
in New York , the gays in San Francisco , who really put the pressure on
Joe and others to get me here, because I was cut out of the pack, as I
was with the AFL-CIO just recently. And so I'm very grateful that,
Joe, you've reversed yourself, and I'm here. And I'll try to give a
good account of myself for you. (Laughter.)
MS. CARLSON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
MR. GRAVEL: Okay? (Applause.)
Now, about my generation, most of them are wrong.
MS. ETHERIDGE: Yeah! (Laughter.)
MR. GRAVEL: They're dead wrong. They're dead wrong. You know,
when I was a kid there was a lot of homophobia around. I can recall
when the gay issue was, what, 55 percent opposed, 40 percent for. And
lo and behold, now if you're talking about the gay issue in general,
it's probably 55, almost 59 percent for, and the rest are in the
dustbin of history.
The same thing's going to happen with the marriage issue. I'll
tell you -- I'll make you a promise. Five years from now the marriage
issue will be a non-issue in the next presidential campaign. Just
that simple. (Applause.)
I hope I answered your question.
MS. ETHERIDGE: Well, I believe you're absolutely right. And
it's so refreshing to sit here and -- and I'm glad we have the
opportunity to have you sit here and tell us that.
You are from
Alaska . You're --
MR. GRAVEL: I live in
Virginia now, but my heart is still in
MS. ETHERIDGE: All right. There's many -- many gay people up in
Alaska ? (Laughter.)
MR. GRAVEL: (Inaudible) -- gay people. My coterie of support
within the Harvey Milk Club is the Alaskans that are in that club.
They're in the audience right today. I think they're sitting up front
somewhere. But we're talking about Maxine, we're talking about John,
Alaska , and, of course, Patrick, who's not from
but boy, he sure acts like an Alaskan with his enthusiasm.
MS. ETHERIDGE: Oh, great. Well, I love seeing you here and I'm
glad that you are running for president to keep everyone honest. I
love that you are joining us today. And just best of luck to you.
MR. GRAVEL: It --
MS. CARLSON: You know, if --
MR. GRAVEL: Please.
MS. CARLSON: If you think it's changing so much, you could put
gay marriage up to a popular vote and it would win?
MR. GRAVEL: I think so. I think so. I think that the American
people are --
MS. CARLSON: Things have changed that much?
MR. GRAVEL: -- basically got really an underlying sense of
values of fairness. What happens is we had the leadership that
demagogues the issue to a fare-thee-well, whether it's presidential
candidates who can't quite get their arms around the marriage issue
and, of course, will give you an argument.
And it could be a real argument that it's their morality that doesn't
permit it or it's a political argument.
You know, first off -- and I have some advice; I want to share
some advice with the gay community nationally and with all of you, and
that is, when people like myself or Dennis, we move the ball down the
court a little bit, that benefits the gay community. And it's sort of
ironic that we see the gay community supporting people like Hillary,
Obama, Edwards, who, for some reason, can't get their arms around
Stop and think. What is marriage? And I resent religion saying
that it's a religious term. It's not. Marriage preceded all forms of
religion in civilization. Marriage is a commitment between two human
beings in love. And understand me; I'm saying two human beings. They
can be heterosexual. They can be two lesbians. They can be
transgender. They can be two gays.
What it is, it's a commitment of human beings in love. And if
there's anything we need in this world, it's more love. (Applause.)
MS. CARLSON: There's no daylight between you and Congressman
Kucinich on this thing called love. (Laughter.)
MR. GRAVEL: Well, Dennis and I, we have our differences, you
know, but I --
MS. CARLSON: But not on love, yes. (Laughter.)
MR. GRAVEL: No, not on love. In fact, if you look a little
deeper and you look at life itself and the human psyche, there's only
two divisions. There's love and fear. And love implements a whole
beneficial area of our psyche. And fear, which, of course, is what
we've been living under for the last 50 years in order to sustain the
military complex -- stop and think; we're afraid of everything in the
United States . There's nothing to fear. There's nothing at all. And
as president, I will call upon the courage in the people to step
forward and express themselves with what counts, and that's love.
MS. CARLSON: Thank you, Senator. (Applause.)
MR. CAPEHART: Senator, just a second ago you said you couldn't
understand why people were supporting Obama and Edwards and Clinton
over you. So why do you think -- because you are a supporter of full
same-sex marriage rights. So why do you think Obama and Edwards and
Clinton are ahead of you?
MR. GRAVEL: Well, it's because they're playing it safe. They're
playing it safe. They're not going to earn -- they're not going to
lose any votes over not being for marriage, whatever their excuses
are. They're going to win. This is costing votes for us. I don't
care. I don't want those votes. I don't want those votes.
So you want to know the difference? It's as plain as the nose on
your face, and that is that what you're experiencing is politics as
usual. And a gifted politician can tell you this. And I don't mean
this humorously; I mean it very accurately. A good politician can
tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip.
(Laughter.) Well, and we see a lot; we see a lot of that.
MR. CAPEHART: Senator, the nose on my face is rather sweaty at
the moment. Now, you just said that marriage, you believe, in five
years will be a dead issue. But right now there's a debate in the gay
community where the central question is, did we go for marriage too
MR. GRAVEL: Go for what?
MR. CAPEHART: Did we go for marriage too soon?
MS. CARLSON: Should the community --
MR. GRAVEL: I know that Barney Frank --
MS. CARLSON: -- have stuck with civil unions?
MR. GRAVEL: I understand the question. I know that Barney Frank
initially said that we should have -- they should have not gone for
it. I disagree. And I think Barney Frank is the brightest person in
Congress, period, bar none. But -- and now he's changed his position.
He feels that you draw a line in the sand by telling people that you
can't use the word marriage, which, of course, has been
misappropriated by religion.
Go to the city hall next time and look for where you go get your
license. Does it say gay same sex union or does it say Marriage
License Bureau? It says marriage license.
And so I would say that no, what you have to do is recognize that
when people are telling you that you can't be married, what they're
telling you is there's something wrong with you, you're second-class
citizens, and that's not so. You're not second-class citizens, and
the sooner our nation matures to that level -- and I say "matures"
because in many areas of our society we are adolescent, and so we have
And so leadership is the task of bringing us forward to civic
maturity, and we don't have enough of that leadership at the
presidential level, and we haven't had much of it for the last 50
MS. CARLSON: Joe.
MR. SOLOMONESE: All right. So in an effort to redeem myself,
I'm going to just give you some time to talk to people -- (laughter)
MR. GRAVEL: (Off mike) -- some good questions. Come on.
MR. SOLOMONESE: But you know, we've asked a lot of candidates to
take a look forward tonight and talk about what they might do, but I'd
like you, actually, to take a look back. And prior to getting into
this presidential campaign, talk to us about what is the thing that
you have done to advance gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender rights
that you are most proud of?
MR. GRAVEL: I would -- I don't ask you your age, but I'll tell
you the first piece of legislation in my entire career as a freshman
Alaska State Legislature was the creation -- and I fought it
hard, I used political capital. And what I learned is that when you
use political capital, more capital comes to you. But I fought it
hard. You know what it was? It was the Human Rights Commission of
Alaska , and that dealt with gays and dealt with the black community.
That was my first accomplishment, and I felt it deeply.
Now, of recent vintage -- and as you know, I've been gone from
the scene for 26 years.
I'm now back, for some very good reasons, and not the least of which
is this issue. I'm not afraid of this issue. I love bringing forth
this issue, because it really shows the competition to be a little
weak, because they say they all want to lead. Well, what does a
leader do? A leader stands up with a little bit of courage and does
You know, I filibustered the end of the draft. Bush can't go
Iran today because he doesn't have the boots on the ground
because of what I did. I stopped the nuclear testing in the North
Pacific. And so -- I could go on, but -- but back then, mainstream
media marginalized me. Oh, I was a maverick, oh, kooky Gravel. Well,
I'll tell you what. All you've got to do is live long enough so they
can look back and say, "My God, was he a courageous leader!"
MS. CARLSON: Another question?
MR. GRAVEL: (Continued applause) -- and I'm just saying that was
not -- that was not a back-ended swipe. I love you, Joe, and I
appreciate your leadership in this area.
MR. SOLOMONESE: Thank you.
MR. GRAVEL: I honor you more than you realize.
MS. CARLSON: For that, Joe gets another question. (Laughter.)
MR. SOLOMONESE: And I'm 34, for the record. (Laughter.)
MR. GRAVEL: Well, I'll tell you what, Joe, you weren't even a
twinkle in your father's eye when I got the first piece of legislation
on this subject.
MS. CARLSON: That was a good one.
MR. GRAVEL: That was 45 years ago.
MS. CARLSON: Thirty-four years ago?
MR. GRAVEL: Forty-five years ago, I was a state -- in the
legislature, a representative. And this was the -- this, I had a
burning desire, and I got it through that first year, as a freshman.
And the point I made, when they say, "Oh, I can't use my capital,
because I've got bigger things to do." I'll tell you what I found out
in life as a political leader -- use your capital, because more is
going to flow your way. Because when you win, then more capital comes
over the side for you.
MR. SOLOMONESE: I'm wondering if you can comment on a statistic.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 50
percent of black, gay and bisexual men in some of
America 's urban
cities may already be infected with HIV. I'm wondering what can we be
doing a better job of to tackle this problem.
MR. GRAVEL: Of -- of course, the obvious answer to that, Joe, is
that we need to do a better job on health care. We need to do a job
-- a better job with respect to how we treat Americans. I think
Dennis mentioned a little bit of it. I feel very deeply -- and I
don't know, I couldn't hear Dennis all that well, but I -- some -- a
few issues, a few back, I made the point that we have to address the
whole drug issue.
I see no reason between marijuana and booze or alcohol, and there's no
reason why you shouldn't be able to go to a liquor store and buy
marijuana. (Applause.) And it has recuperative powers.
And the next thing: With hard drugs, it's hard drugs -- what you
should do is you decriminalize it. You turn around and treat it like
a health issue that it is. And so people who want hard drugs -- let
them go to a doctor; let them get a prescription. Then we can record
them and be ready to help them when they -- when they're ready to be
The way it is now, we fill up our prisons. It's the shame of
this country that we have 2,300,000 human beings in prison. Half of
them shouldn't even be there.
Is there anybody within the sound of my voice that doesn't know
the social failure of prohibition in the '20s that criminalized our
society, that turned around and caused people to lose respect for the
law? And that's what we're doing all over again. And it's been 25
years that we've been waging this war on drugs, and it's an absolute
And is there anybody prepared to join with men and say -- and
even Obama, he was talking about he's going to do something for the
inner cities. What's ravaging the inner cities? It is the drug war
-- not the drugs, the drug war and all of the activity that gets on
And where is the leadership to end this? FDR had the guts to end
it back in 1933. I will end it now. All you got to do is make me the
next president of the
United States . (Applause.)
MS. CARLSON: (Laughs.) Senator, that sounds like a closing
statement, but would you like to say a few more words in closing?
SEN. GRAVEL: A closing statement?
MS. CARLSON: Yes.
SEN. GRAVEL: Already we're closing?
MS. CARLSON: Yeah.
SEN. GRAVEL: Well, let me say, I have worked all of my adult
life on this issue and the issue of justice. For me, it's justice;
it's human rights. It's not whether you're gay.
I've advocated many times that for gays -- come out of the
closet, please. Some people can't pay the price at a given point in
But there's one thing that counts: You've got to assert your
rights. Nobody is going to give you anything from on high. It just
does not happen that way in a system of representative government.
And so you have to step forward, and I'll be happy to step forward
with you, as I have all of my life. And I can promise you one thing,
you stand up for me -- and I need your support; I need your support
and want it and beg it because I'll do more for your cause than any
other human being that walks the Earth as your president.
Thank you very much. (Applause, cheers.)
MS. CARLSON: Senator, thanks. That was great.