In 2010, the debate over gay rights, while a major issue for many groups, has not played a central role in the political debate surrounding most midterm elections. This is partially due to the economy taking center stage, and partially due to the fact that American society is just kind of over the whole thing, and is more tolerant of the LGBT community than ever before.
Yet on the campaign trail, the divisions over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and other gay rights causes can still run very deep between the two parties — creating a clear distinction that popped up last night in a debate between the two nominees running for Senate in North Carolina.
The exchange between Sen. Richard Burr (R) and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) isn’t likely to change the election’s outcome — polls show Burr with a big lead, and most observers expect him to cruise to reelection this fall.
But the debate offered one of the clearest views of the differences between Republicans and Democrats over LGBT rights found this year. Marshall called DADT “governmental discrimination,” equal to “judging people by the color of their hair, the color of their eyes, or the color of their skin, or other factors they have no control over.”
Burr said he had no idea whether homosexuality is a choice or biological and bristled at the idea that the battle for racial Civil Rights is equatable to granting LGBT rights.“This is a very specific group of individuals,” Burr said to Marshall. “Don’t bring race into this.”
Simply put, polls show Americans now overwhelmingly favor lifting the military’s ban on gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Though there are divisions among age and party — with older Republicans more likely to oppose lifting DADT — numbers show as close to a national consensus as one gets these days. The CBS news poll has consistently shown around 60% of the public support lifting the ban, while around 30% want to keep it.
Just 36% of Americans surveyed by CBS in June said being gay or lesbian is a choice. Fifty-one percent said gays and lesbians are born that way.
On the campaign trail, the numbers are much different. Republican candidates have continued to at best punt on the question of whether homosexuality is a choice, while most Democrats — even those running in historically socially conservative states like North Carolina and, say, Kentucky — have, like Marshall, said that it’s a born-in trait.
As to the Raleigh, NC News & Observer reported it, the distinction led to one of the testiest moments of an otherwise pretty boring debate last night. After Marshall called out Burr for saying he didn’t know whether gays are born that way or not, the pair “glared at each other,” leading to the “sharpest exchange” of the night.
Watch (the relevant video starts at 34:28):