Jessica Hoffmann

Gravel: Live from the HRC Candidates' Forum

Filed By Jessica Hoffmann | August 09, 2007 10:04 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] Transcript of Senator Gravel's section after the jump.

-- Okay, Gravel, take on the prison-industrial complex and the war on drugs. Onward, onward ... now link that to the trouble with hate-crimes legislation ... maybe?

-- Gravel didn't say this, a journalist did, but to him: the debate in the gay community is over the question, Did we go for marriage too soon? Is that the debate? For a second I thought he was gonna mention the debate over why marriage is even a priority ... oh, well.

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

time ever.

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

Gravel. (Applause.)

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.


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 --


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

Alaska .

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,

from Delta,
Alaska , and, of course, Patrick, who's not from
Alaska ,

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.


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

to mature.

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

years. (Applause.)


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

in the
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!"

(Laughter, applause.)

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.

Please, Joe.

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

there. (Applause.)

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?


SEN. GRAVEL: Already we're closing?


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.

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Steve Ralls | August 16, 2007 5:42 PM

It's also been true that Senator Gravel is a big proponent of the ultimate direct democracy: putting almost all legislative issues to a popular vote (or, in his view, allowing the public the opportunity to overturn ANY presidential signature via referendum). And, though I love having Gravel's voice in this election, his stance on voting for most policies by popular vote (or repealin them that way) is troubling, especially on the issue of civil rights.

In fact, there are states in our country where support for inter-racial marriage probably wouldn't top 50%, let alone same-sex marriage. But our system of government was set up to protect and advocate for the rights of minorities, too.

The question about whether same-sex marriage would be approved by popular vote isn't relevant (and Gravel's answer was proven wrong, in part, by 2004 ballot initiatives). What's truly relevant is: will the next commander-in-chief advocate for what's right, even if it's not what's overwhelmingly popular at the moment.