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Human Rights Campaign Forum with the Democratic Candidates for President of the United States

Location: Washington, DC


…Each candidate will appear separately, and in the order in which their acceptance to today's forum was received. Each candidate will have ten minutes—a two-minute opening statement, a three-minute closing statement, and in between I'll attempt to draw them out on their views. It's really just that simple. So let's get started.



…Our next candidate is the Reverend Al Sharpton from New York. Reverend Sharpton. (Applause.) Welcome, Reverend Sharpton. You have two minutes for an opening statement.

REV. SHARPTON: Thank you. First of all, I'm very honored to be here today as part of this forum. I'm the only candidate that is running that has been involved directly in the struggle for human rights all of my life. Many people observe the struggle; I have been a participant in the struggle.

The issues that are critical to this organization and campaign are nothing short to me of questions of human rights. If someone says to me as a minister, Do you support the right of gays to be married? -- that's like asking do I support black marriage or white marriage, because the inference of the question is that gays and lesbians are not human beings that can make decisions like any other human being. (Applause.) We must stop in this election the separation of gays and lesbians from other Americans. I know from one who grew up being treated that way because of race—how it is now being treated that way, even with those that are liberal on this issue—that in a condescending way understand you, like there's something different and less than human about you. If people respect you, it's not about gays and lesbians having the right to marry—it's about human beings having the right to marry who they choose. If we don't need permission to marry one to another for others, why are we so reluctant to say it is against the principles of a true democracy to act as though those that are gay and lesbian have no right to choose? Marriage—not civil union. That's like saying we'll give blacks or whites or Latinos the rights to shack up but not marry. (Applause.)

MR. DONALDSON: Thank you. Thank you, reverend. Thank you, reverend. Thank you very much, Reverend Sharpton. You're for gay marriage. And I noticed on the questionnaire you filled out for the Human Rights Campaign you checked yes for every one of the questions in which they hoped they would. So let's not talk about division, let's talk about ways and means. If you're president, how are you going to convince the rest of America to do what you say needs to be done?

REV. SHARPTON: I think that we have to pose it this way: I think we have to pose it to Americans in the way I did in my opening statement that you cut off at the two-minute line. (Laughter.)

MR. DONALDSON: That's my job, reverend.

REV. SHARPTON: If I'm president, you won't be able to cut me off. That will be my job. (Applause.) ericans need to be posed with the question by a president, Do you want to be treated any differently? And I think that it is a human rights question that needs to be led by people like me that are in the church. The church leaders ought to lead the fight against what Bill Frist is trying to do. It is nothing short of in discriminatory and bias. If they can do it to any of us, they'll do it to all of us. And I think that's how it must be argued to reverse it! (Applause. Cheers.)

MR. DONALDSON: I take it from your answer that you would lead by example and you would lead by trying to move the nation forward. Would you submit legislation? Would you try to pass laws? If so, which ones?

REV. SHARPTON: I think that we clearly would support any effort of legislation. But I think, again, the first thing a president does is set a tone. And I think I would use the bully pulpit of the White House—and I'm the most experienced person in this race with u sing bully pulpits. (Laughter.) But I would use the bully pulpit of the White House to set a tone, even before I would go for legislation, because Congress must vote under the climate being set differently and also the debates being put in broader terms.

Again, I think that we have allowed them to dictate the terms in a way that is divisive and discriminatory. Question: Do you support Latinos' right to vote, or do you support everyone's right to vote? I think we must change the language of the debate so we stop in language discriminating against gays and lesbians in this country. (Applause.)

MR. DONALDSON: Reverend Sharpton, you are known for being a person on occasion who confronts what you see as injustice in the streets. You lead many marches. Is that the type of campaign that you would encourage to try to change Americans' minds?

REV. SHARPTON: Well, you know, I spent most of the seven St. Patrick's days marching in New York gay and lesbian activists excluded from the parade. So I would continue to march. As president I wouldn't march on myself. (Laughter.) I would march—I would march to a podium and begin setting the tone. Secondly, I would support—I would support movements. Let's face it, if it had not been that kind of activism, we would never have made progress in this country. (Applause.) Women didn't get the right to vote by osmosis. Blacks didn't get the right to vote by internal lobbying in Washington. Those movements and the people that paid the price in the gay and lesbian community is the reason that we are where we are now on these issues, and these people are the true heroes of America. (Applause.) In fact, at a forum yesterday I said how I had been to jail for civil rights causes. Some of the candidates said they've never been to jail. If you haven't been to jail for a cause by the time you're 50 years old, you ought not tell nobody. (Applause.)

MR. DONALDSON: The right to speed down a Texas highway doesn't count. (Laughter.)

REV. SHARPTON: I said a good cause. Although I tend to speed up a Texas highway. (Applause.)

MR. DONALDSON: Reverend, let me talk about the military. We know what your stand is there, to remove the rule in effect now and make it open to everyone no matter what the sexual orientation. You will have some problems with the military. How are you going to deal there? Simply again by talking to them?

REV. SHARPTON: No, I think you also put people in authority that executes the will of the president. You certainly have the Cabinet members that overrule the military understand it. This is not just a social opinion that I am sympathetic to. This must be the law of the land that is in force. And just as presidents had to deal with the social reactionary feelings of some in the height of the military for others, we must make it clear that they have to adjust or move out now. We can't --

MR. DONALDSON: Move out? You would fire a bunch of military officers?

REV. SHARPTON: Anyone guilty of discrimination ought to be fired. They are violating the law! (Applause.)

MR. DONALDSON: Reverend Sharpton, I say with great relief as a tough questioner it's time now for your closing statement. (Laughter.)

REV. SHARPTON: I think that we are challenged in 2004 with more than just an election. But this election will choose where we are going in this nation and in this party. I am not just running to win the White House. There are some that say, Well, Reverend Sharpton, you can't win. Well, I'll tell you a secret: There are nine of us running. Eight of us are going to lose. (Laughter.) I intend to be the one winner. But the question is, whoever you support may lose. So you ought to support the one that you least risk—has the least risk, and support. Supporting me supports a movement for human rights, a movement to bring people and groups together that historically have not been together. That is the majority of the Democratic Party. Whether we win, lose or draw, we must come together, and we must put social justice and human rights at the centerpiece of this nation.

I'm calling for three amendments added to the Constitution: right to vote, right to quality education, right to quality health care. The one amendment I will fight though is the Frist-proposed amendment. We must turn this party around from imitating Republicans to being the real people that stand for all Americans. (Applause.) I intend to be the candidate to go to Boston to carry that message. Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause. Cheers.)

Copyright 2003 Federal News Service, Inc.

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