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Dems to spar, GOP no-show at landmark gay debate

  • Story Highlights
  • Historic debate, on LOGO at 9 p.m. ET, happens in Los Angeles
  • Scheduling won't allow Sen. Joseph Biden and Sen. Chris Dodd to make it
  • The gay community is largely democratic and politically active
  • Human Rights Campaign, channel LOGO sponsoring debate
  • Next Article in Politics »
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(CNN) -- Voters concerned about where presidential candidates stand on gay rights may have their question answered tonight.

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The gay and lesbian community is largely Democratic and politically active.

The forum, at 9 p.m. ET in Los Angeles, California, is co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, the country's leading organization advocating equal rights for gays, lesbians, and the transgender community.

Also sponsoring the event is LOGO, a gay and lesbian television network that is part of MTV Networks that will televise the debate.

While just three percent of 2006 voters identified themselves as gay or lesbian, the community is largely Democratic and politically active.

All Democratic candidates will be there except Sen. Joseph Biden and Sen. Chris Dodd who say they have scheduling conflicts.

No Republican candidates agreed to participate.

Serving as a panelist, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said the debate reflects the comfort level many Americans have now regarding gay issues and gay lifestyles.

"Candidates are talking about our issues [such as] overturning the ban on gays and lesbians in the military," he said. Video Watch the candidates take varying positions on gay marriage »

Many Democrats have called recently for a policy change in the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy which does not require troops to reveal sexual orientation, but does not allow openly homosexual troops to serve.

But stances on gay rights among those Democrats don't necessarily reflect what the rest of the country thinks -- at least those attitudes measured by polls.

In the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 45 percent of Americans said they have a family member or friend who is gay or lesbian. That's up 13 points since 1994.

Still, 57 percent of Americans oppose legalizing gay marriage. And previous polls show more acceptance but not a majority acceptance of civil unions.

Former Sen. John Edwards straddles the middle of the road, saying this election season that he's not ready to embrace gay marriage, but his wife and daughter support it.

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The decision by GOP candidates not to attend the debate mirrors their constituency's feelings. Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Washington-based Family Research Council, suggested Democratic candidates are debating merely to court money from special interest groups that cater to gay rights. But he suggested there may be some political backlash.

"If they [Democrats] want to make a social statement it's a great thing to do," said Perkins. "If they want to raise money among special interest groups it's a great thing to do. But if they [Democrats] want to win the White House, polling shows it's [courting the gay and lesbian vote] not the thing to do." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN Senior Political Corresponden Candy Crowley contributed to this report.

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