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VIDEO: GOP candidates speak on gay Republicans and military ban

by Michael Rogers and Mike Aivaz

In a segment that surprised many viewers, an openly gay veteran addressed the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential candidates from the audience after they responded to his question on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The two-hour televised debate was broadcast on CNN and included questions from over 5,000 submitted to the online video hosting site.

The six minute segment on gay issues began with CNN anchor and debate host Anderson Cooper introducing a video question from Brigadier Gen. Keith Kerr (Ret.):

I'm a retired brigadier general with 43 years of service. And I'm a graduate of the Special Forces Officer Course, the Commanding General Staff Course and the Army War College. And I'm an openly gay man.

I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.

Before Cooper turned to the candidates for their responses, he introduced General Kerr, who was sitting in the audience. Kerr is the only questioner from the debate who was introduced. "I'm glad you're here," Cooper said.

Congressman Duncan Hunter, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Former Massachusetts Governor all defended the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, with Romney saying, "it seems to have worked."

Cooper pressed Romney, reminding the candidate that in 1994 that he looked forward to the day when gays and lesbians could serve, "and I quote, 'openly and honestly in our nation's military.' Do you stand by that?" asked Cooper.

Romney did not reaffirm his statement, instead saying, "I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our troops and I listen to what they have to say."

In response to Romney, boos were heard from the audience.

Following the exchange, Cooper turned to General Kerr and asked him to stand and address the audience. "Did you feel you got an answer to your question?" Cooper asked.

The audience applauded when Kerr replied, "With all due respect, I did not get an answer from the candidates....American men and women in the military are professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.

"For 42 years, I wore the army uniform on active duty, in the Reserve, and also for the state of California. I revealed I was a gay man after I retired. Today, Don't Ask Don't Tell is destructive to our military policy. Every day, the Department of Defense discharges two people, not for misconduct, not for the unit cohesion..."

At this point Kerr's microphone malfunctioned and another was brought to him. He continued, "...Not for the unit cohesion that Congressman Hunter is talking about, but simply because they happen to be gay...and we're talking about doctors, nurses, pilots, and the surgeon who sews somebody up when they're taken from the battlefield."

It was the only time during the two-hour program that an audience member addressed the group.

Following Kerr's statement, Cooper asked McCain to answer the question. McCain thanked the General for service to his country and then explained that he believed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is working.

In response to the candidates, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said "Republicans and Democrats alike should be able to agree that our national security and military readiness are not partisan political matters. Republican voters increasingly understand that Donít Ask, Donít Tell deprives our armed forces of the talent and skills of patriotic Americans who have important contributions to make to our national defense."

"Voters want leaders who will reach across party lines and build consensus to repeal this law," he added.

Following the exchange on gays in the military, Cooper played a question from David Cercone, a member of the Log Cabin Republicans:

Hi, my name is David Cercone. I'd like to ask all the candidates if they accept the support of the Log Cabin Republicans, and why should the Log Cabin Republicans support their candidacy?

Cooper asked Huckabee to answer. The candidate replied that "You know, in my position in this entire election, I need the support of anybody and everybody I can get." In response the audience applauded.

When asked if he would take the support of Log Cabins, Huckabee explained that he "disagrees with them, strongly disagree with them on the idea of same-sex marriage, but in a democracy we can have disagreements over some policies and still agree on the greater things that make us Republicans.

"So would I accept their support?" Huckabee said, "Of course. Would I change my position on same-sex marriage? No, I wouldn't. But if they're willing to support me, I'll be their president. I'll be anybody's president, but I'll be true to my convictions, and I think that's what Americans look for -- not someone they're going to agree with on everything, but somebody who at least has some convictions, sticks with them, can explain them, and can at least have respect for people who have different ones."

Here is the six-minute video excerpt from the November 28, 2007 debate:


Originally published on Wednesday November 28, 2007.

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