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Forbes - Obama Argues for Civil Unions for Gays

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

Forbes - Obama Argues for Civil Unions for Gays

Michael Blood

Sen. Barack Obama said Thursday he wanted to tap into the "core decency" of Americans to fight discrimination against gays and lesbians, and argued that civil unions for same-sex couples wouldn't be a "lesser thing" than marriage.

At a televised forum focusing on gay rights, the Illinois senator was asked to explain how civil unions for same-sex couples could be the equivalent of marriage. He said, "As I've proposed it, it wouldn't be a lesser thing, from my perspective.

"Semantics may be important to some. From my perspective, what I'm interested (in) is making sure that those legal rights are available to people," he said.

"If we have a situation in which civil unions are fully enforced, are widely recognized, people have civil rights under the law, then my sense is that's enormous progress," the Illinois Democrat said.

Obama belongs to the United Church of Christ, which supports gay marriage, but Obama has yet to go that far.

The senator was the first of six Democratic candidates scheduled to answer questions at an event described as a milestone by organizers. It marked the first time that major presidential candidates appeared on TV specifically to address gay issues, they said.

Obama called the event "a historic moment . . . for America."

The two-hour forum, held in a Hollywood studio with an invited audience of 200, was co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group active in Democratic politics, and Logo, a gay-oriented cable TV channel that aired the forum live.

"We already won because the candidates are here," Logo President Brian Graden said.

Of the eight Democratic candidates, two did not attend, Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd on Connecticut.

The forum's schedule called for the candidates, one at a time and seated in an upholstered chair, to take questions from a panel that included Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, singer Melissa Etheridge and Washington Post (nyse: WPO - news - people ) editorial writer Jonathan Capehart.

All of the Democratic candidates support a federal ban on anti-gay job discrimination, want to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from serving openly in the military and support civil unions that would extend marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.

A majority of Americans oppose nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage and only two of the Democrats support it - former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, both longshots for the nomination.

Logo, available in about 27 million homes, wanted to hold a second forum for Republican candidates, but GOP front-runners showed no interest, channel officials said.

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