L.A. event shows emerging gay-rights influence on Dems

All the major Democratic presidential candidates &

and none of the Republican ones &

will be in Los Angeles tonight for what was billed as a nonpartisan forum on issues important to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. The televised event showcases the status that gays' votes and money have earned them in the Democratic Party, but also the continued controversy of their cause.

Writer and gay-rights advocate David Mixner recognizes this as much as anyone. Two decades ago, the 1988 presidential campaign of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, fearful of controversy, declined an offer by Mixner and three wealthy friends to raise $1 million from the gay community. In 1992, he raised $3.5 million for Bill Clinton's campaign. Now, he is openly backing former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and doesn't know how much he has raised so far, but said, "I've done real well."

The entire Democratic field's support of gay rights is so similarly strong that Mixner picked Edwards based on an unrelated matter: his opposition to the Iraq war. All the major Democrats favor civil unions for gay couples, and repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy against openly gay service members that front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's husband initiated.

Their Republican counterparts don't; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have pivoted away from their previous stands favoring gay rights as they seek the nomination of a party in which social conservatives hold sway.

Still, the Democrats' courtship of gay voters goes only so far. None of the Democrats, except for two dark-horse candidates, supports the gay community's top goal: marriage rights. In large measure, this reflects Democrats' fear of an issue Republicans used effectively in 2004 to put them on the defensive and mobilize Republicans' conservative ranks behind President Bush's re-election.

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