August 10th, 2007
03:53 PM ET
14 years ago

Richardson flubs answer at gay forum

Richardson said at Thursday's forum he thinks homosexuality is a choice but later backtracked.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - It was an answer the largely gay audience at Thursday night's Human Rights Campaign presidential forum was not expecting.

Asked whether he thought homosexuality was a "choice" or "biological," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson flatly said, "It's a choice."

Seemingly taken aback by the presidential hopeful's answer, panelist Melissa Etheridge responded, "I don't know if you understand the question."

But Richardson did not exactly repudiate his answer, saying, "I'm not a scientist. I don't see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as people, as a matter of human decency. I see it as a matter of love and companionship and people loving each other. I don't like to categorize people. I don't like to answer definitions like that that perhaps are grounded in science or something else that I don't understand."

Shortly after the forum ended, Richardson's campaign released a statement from the governor "clarifying" his remarks: "Let me be clear - I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice."

"But I'm not a scientist, and the point I was trying to make is that no matter how it happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law," he added.

Many opponents of gay rights make the argument that homosexuality is a choice and, as such, homosexuals should not be afforded the same rights as heterosexuals.

A similar question at a 2004 presidential debate also created trouble for then-Democratic nominee John Kerry. The Massachusetts senator took heat for invoking Dick Cheney's daughter in his answer.

"We're all God's children, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was. She's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not a choice," said Kerry.

- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney

Filed under: Bill Richardson
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Kojo

    In all honesty im sure a lot of the democrat candidates think the same,i wonder how they will be able to stick with the gay community and also appeal to minorities because i know it is not really popular among blacks and Hispanics

    August 10, 2007 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  2. VanReuter NY NY

    He's no, "political" scientist either...

    August 10, 2007 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  3. John, Oak Lawn, IL

    Unlikely Hillary, Barack, and John Edwards- Gov Richardson has actually accomplished things for gay people- notably a comprehensive non-discrimination law in New Mexico. He also had the sense to vote against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." So people should stop screaming about a single passing comment.

    August 10, 2007 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  4. Kyle Indianapolis, Indiana

    I believe this was a real fumble, he has a good record with gay rights. I know I gasped when I watched the statement live, but knew he misunderstood the question.

    August 10, 2007 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  5. Jack Jett

    This man did not just "flub".

    I have never seen a someone bomb so much since I watched a tape of my first stand up in Canada.

    It was sad. He knew he was drowning and he just kept going down and no one would hand him a rope.

    It was like watching a hispanic George Bush.....not that he was that one is.

    jack jett

    August 10, 2007 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  6. Patricia Vail San Antonio, Tx

    Candy Crowley states in her piece concerning this story that science has "long held" that there is a biological reason for homosexuality. There is no such thing! How can a journlist even say that get away with it on CNN? The APA is a political organization as much as a medical one and they are as influenced by popular opinion as anyone. They haven't LONG HELD this, they are just changing with the times of late. Homosexuality is a not in our nature, and not in our genes.

    August 10, 2007 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  7. David, Gilbert Arizona

    There is a choice involved, whether to live a prescribed lie dictated by social "norms" or to live as they believe they were born to live.

    That does indeed involve a choice. I believe this is what Richardson was trying to say, at least it sounded so to me.

    I would wonder how many people actually think someone got out of bed one morning and decided, "I'm going to be gay today" as if homosexuality can just be turned on and off like a light switch? How many straight people made the conscious decision to be straight? If you are straight can you look at someone of the same sex and find them attractive and make a choice not to persue the attraction? I can honestly say I have never made such an obvious choice regarding sexuality. It just comes natural to me.

    If homosexuality is a choice so is heterosexuality. I believe this was the point Richardson was making. We just misunderstood his answer.

    August 10, 2007 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  8. Pixie, Murfreesboro, TN

    "Candy Crowley states in her piece concerning this story that science has "long held" that there is a biological reason for homosexuality. There is no such thing! How can a journlist even say that get away with it on CNN? The APA is a political organization as much as a medical one and they are as influenced by popular opinion as anyone. They haven't LONG HELD this, they are just changing with the times of late. Homosexuality is a not in our nature, and not in our genes."

    Sorry to break it to you, but if you had actually picked up a book, a science journal, or basically relied on something other than World Net Daily for your information, you would find that science has long speculated that there is a genetic basis for sexual orientation.

    Furthermore, you talk to ANY gay person out there, and they will tell you that there is just an innate attraction to members of the same sex. Just like YOU may have an innate attraction for members of the opposite sex...or your closest relatives...whatever.

    August 10, 2007 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  9. Dan Ferrisi, Garden City, NY

    Studies of the animal kingdom reveal that homosexuality and bisexuality are rampant in dozens and dozens of animal species, including our own Homo sapiens sapiens species. Of course, there is a choice involved in following one's innate proclivities. However, those proclivities themselves are not a choice anymore than eye color or skin shading are choices. No matter what we do, we cannot change our genetically determined orientation. At most, we consciously can act against that orientation.


    August 10, 2007 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  10. David, Salinas, CA

    Most of my posts on this board are my political positions. I have no academic training in politics, I’m just another opinionated American.

    But now we’ve somehow wandered into my professional line. Speaking as a professor of biological psychology with graduate degrees in cognitive neuroscience I am comfortable stating that we just don’t know if homosexuality is caused by nature or nurture. We know that it’s common throughout the animal kingdom, but we have no conclusive proof of either genetic predisposition or social psychological causation. It’s a fascinating subject and one of the great mysteries of our time. It’s also an empirical question to be resolved by objective scientific study. It’s not going to be settled by political speeches or blog posts.

    Frankly, I don’t see what difference it makes to the political questions at hand. People deserve civil rights either way.

    August 10, 2007 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  11. Jon, Sacramento ~ Ca

    If being gay is not a choice... but is genetic – HOW is it passed on generation to generation?

    August 10, 2007 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  12. Al, Pittsburgh, PA

    While more research might be needed to determine just how much of one's sexual orientation is determined exclusively by genetics (the nature vs. nurture debate) that doesn't mean we cannot claim that homosexuality is unquestionably not a personal choice. In other words, even if feeling attraction to other members of the same sex is the combination of some genetic predisposition plus some environmental factors whose presence is necessary to trigger the same-sex attraction, the fact remains that a gay man cannot help but feel attracted to other men and not to women (and a lesbian woman cannot help but feel attracted to other women, and not to men). Therefore, regardless of whether some environmental factors have an influence in whether a child will grow up to be gay or not, that does not feel like a choice for that person (gay or straight). Each one of us just feels a natural attraction to one gender or the other, without having had to make a conscious decision about it. Therefore, we can conclusively say that no, homosexuality is not a choice.

    PS By the way, it is very well established in the literature that the number of older male brothers is a statistically significant predictor of whether a man will grow up to be gay or not. That result only holds for biological male brothers, though, and not for adopted children –suggesting a biological, not an environmental, factor.

    August 10, 2007 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  13. Dan, Columbia MD

    The gay community will vote for which ever Democrat gets the nomination so in the end it really doesn't matter how poorly Richardson explained his views.

    August 10, 2007 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  14. Myron, Honolulu, HI

    Good to Get all these Gay issues Out of the Way before the really important campaigning starts.

    Personally, I agree, with Richardson in that "we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law"

    Let's NOT let these GAY ISSUES HIJACK our election from really important issues.

    If you TRULY BELIEVE in Intelligent Design, then you have to believe in Gay-ness is one of God's creations too.
    Otherwise your position is that God created everything in the Heavens and on the Earth, except the people that we don't like.
    Now that's a good example of LOVE YOUR ENEMY, NOT!

    I would respectfully suggest to the candidates NOT to get HIJACKED by “Karl Rove” issues, just say something like “other than equal rights for all Americans, I have no other comment.”

    August 10, 2007 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    David our "professor of biological psychology with graduate degrees in cognitive neuroscience" is correct!

    You see it is part of Intellegent Design, just not the Intellegent Design racists like.

    August 10, 2007 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  16. Tricia M Charlottetown PEI

    Sorry Mr. Richardson but if you don't believe it's a choice why did you state you did in a public forum?

    OOOOPPPPS I see eggs coming your way...

    August 10, 2007 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  17. Tyler Thompson, Lafayette, IN

    Can we all take a step back from all of the emotions surrounding the gay issues for a moment and look at how this story was reported?

    The reality is that there is no definitive study that has proven that homosexuality is biological. At this point, we don't know what causes it. There are some studies that show unimpressive correlations to biological influences. But, there are also many studies that show a correlation with environmental(non-biological) influences. Any introductory science course will tell you that a correlation is far from cause and effect.

    CNN did a terrible disservice to all of us by reporting (quite incorrectly) that science has long agreed that homosexuality is biological. This is a news organization that should be checking fact and reporting them correctly. It just makes me wonder how much other information that they get wrong or misreport.

    August 11, 2007 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  18. Fletcher, Port Orchard, Washington

    Civil rights are not a sideshow or a minor issue to be cast aside. Last century we fought for civil rights for minorities. We fought for voting rights for women. These battles continue to this day. Now, it is time to expand the battle to include gays and lesbians. I know a lot of bigots don't want to hear it, but if you stand against gay rights today then it is tantamount to standing with the Ku Klux Klan last century. History will view those who oppose gay rights in the same breath as those who defended Jim Crow laws and fought "miscegenation".

    August 11, 2007 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  19. Julie, New York, NY

    To the author of the original post, and of course to John Kerry, whom he's quoting as saying: "We're all God's children ....... She's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not a choice," said Kerry.

    People should be equally vigilant about that God thing also. Sexuality may not be a choice, but religion most certainly is.

    Not being one of "God's children" myself, yet an American, I hate it when candidates deny the creeds of those of us out here who are not religionists. Humans fall into spectra of gender, race, and religion. If the candidates were more inclusive in their ACTUAL THINKING, not just in how they phrase things, we'd all be much closer to being protected under this Consitution.

    And another thing, if you're thinking about voting for Richardson. Make sure to read Greg Palast (Armed Madhouse) on his messing around with New Mexico elections. It's nasty stuff, and that's another Dem you just can't trust. I hope there'll be one or two left that one WILL be able to vote for by the time we have to actually go and do it.

    August 11, 2007 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  20. Valerie, Albuquerque NM

    I would never consider this to be a flub by any means. Richardson answered a particularly difficult question that had a catch-22 result. If he had said "biological" someone would have been offended. He made it quite evident at that point that he did not profess to be a scientist. I note that he may not be a forerunner in this election, but he has some prime offerings for this country. He has made astronomical progress in NM and has undone a multitude of mistakes that were made by self-proclaimed "political scientists".

    August 11, 2007 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  21. Tricia M Charlottetown PEI

    What really makes me wonder is why those on this blog site who continually criticize CNN –

    1) For being the Hillary Network
    2) For being blatantly Democratic
    3) For being overly biased
    4) For misrepresenting and misquoting politicians
    5) For skewing the poll results in their favour
    6) For filling space with Non Newsworthy issues
    7) For doing us a great disservice
    by reporting incorrectly that science has long agreed that homosexuality is biological.

    Continue to spend time on this site, making comments, reading comments, and critiqing other's comments!? Obviously there's something CNN is doing right or you wouldn't be here. I dont' like Fox News so I don't spend time there.

    August 11, 2007 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  22. Tom Dedham, Mass

    So "Trish" from another country is it just those crazy right wing Fox watchers that criticize this network site from time to time? Don't think so.

    Many liberals/democrats have all said that this is a pro-Shrillary site and their candidates don't get the positive press they deserve.

    I know it's easier to blame others.

    Are you saying that we should just agree with every posting/story that CNN puts out? Pass the kool-aid please.

    Let me guess you are one of those geniuses that has never watched Fox, but like David Letterman, "heard from other people" that it gives more than ONE viewpoint. How terrible.

    August 12, 2007 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  23. Nick, LA, California

    I was watching it and I couldn't believe he fumbled it, it's probably the most easy question you can get asked.

    It boggles my mind that someone should get prepped on that question.

    But let's be honest: the only true progressives there were Gravel and Kucinich. Added points for Gravel for being right for a long time and not sugarcoating anything.
    Also the only one choosing content over form: seeing the rest wrestle with "LGBT or GLBT community" was a little bit amuzing.

    BUT let's focus on the real story: Republicans wouldn't even meet with gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals and transgender people! They don't even have the decensy nor the courage to come down there and say they hate that 10% of the population.


    August 12, 2007 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  24. Tony, New Mexico

    Governor Richardson's mixup does not affect policy. He clearly has a good record when fighting for Gay rights, and I'm sure that would continue as President. The Gay community needs to realize that these other politicians are nice and polished and say what they would like to hear but do not have an extensive record to really show for it.

    August 13, 2007 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  25. Bioninc Woman, Tucson, Arizona

    I am sick and tired of hearing Hillary berated and watching her bashed. For crying out loud America! Say something constructive or shut up.

    August 13, 2007 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
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