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One thing we learned on Tuesday night — or relearned, since every election cycle of the past 20 years has taught the same lesson — is that our two major political parties have distinct and predictable reactions to debate losses. Democrats, when faced with a sitting president completely blowing a debate as Obama did in Denver, race to don their hair shirts and fill the Internet with lamentations of doom, doom and more doom.
Republicans, when faced with a big debate loss, simply force a grin and say, ”We won!”
It’s no surprise that I’m one of the folks who came out of Tuesday night’s debate thinking that President Obama had scored a big victory, if not as obviously big as Mitt Romney had scored over him two weeks before. Romney actually started off the night strong, but as things wore on and the alpha male body-language battle went ever more in the president’s favor, he ended up looking small and petty and willing to say anything necessary to win.
Basically, everything we already knew.
What is surprising is what continues not to be raised over the course of two presidential and one vice presidential debate: any LGBT issue.
During a year in which the sitting president of the United States publicly declared his support for marriage equality; a year when Maryland and Maine may turn back anti-gay efforts to amend their state constitutions; a year when it has become crystal clear that marriage will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court sooner rather than later, not one question has been asked about it.
This may sound frivolous on the surface and I’ve been tempted to dismiss it as such myself. There are, after all, plenty of important domestic and international issues that deserve attention but are left in the unasked folder, climate change foremost among them. There’s only so much time to ask questions over the course of three televised presidential debates and in America the only things allowed to run overtime on TV are professional sports and the Academy Awards.
But as someone who was born in the same year that the Supreme Court declared interracial marriage a constitutional right in Loving v. Virginia, I have to say it boggles my mind that no moderator has brought out this question. It’s not as if it lacks import — Romney’s support for a federal constitutional amendment that would repeal existing marriage equality laws makes his position clear, but it would certainly be interesting to ask why he believes marriage is a federal matter while health care reform should be left to the states. And if I were a Republican-leaning voter, I’d love to hear Obama asked to justify his decision to declare DOMA unconstitutional and his refusal to defend it in court.
We’ve heard the president refer to the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as one of the successes of his first term; we’ve not heard anyone ask Romney if he still believes the repeal was wrong or if he agrees with those congressional Republicans who would like to reinstate it. With the ongoing debates over jobs, education, training and equal-pay-for-equal-work, it would seem some discussion of the desirability of ENDA during this economic climate would be appropriate.
In some way, this can be read as a success for the LGBT movement, or at least the parts of the movement that have focused on marriage and military. We have become so non-controversial in many ways — and the people who care strongly about them are the most unlikely to be ”undecided” (aka ”dithering”) voters — that it no longer registers on this level of presidential debate.
But no matter how much I try to see it as a victory, I end up seeing it for what it really is: a missed opportunity.
Sean Bugg is the co-publisher of Metro Weekly. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.