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On the issues: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump take different paths to embracing LGBT rights

By
Eric DuVall

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- In a presidential campaign where visceral disagreement has been the norm between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump there is one area where they mostly agree, at least in spirit: gay rights.

Clinton has racked up endorsements from every major LGBT advocacy group, though she only officially embraced same-sex marriage in 2013, well after public sentiment had begun to shift in favor of it. She campaigned twice for the Senate and for the presidency in 2008 opposed to marriage equality but in favor of civil unions, regarded by some on the left as a frustrating half-measure.

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Trump is on record opposing same-sex marriage on a policy level and selected a conservative Christian running mate in Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who signed a controversial "religious freedom" bill in his state liberals labeled as legalized discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But in public statements and business dealings dating back years before he became a candidate, Trump showed a personal embrace of LGBT individuals relatively uncommon at the time.

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Setting aside the question of marriage, which the Supreme Court answered in 2015, the candidates agree on much of the rest.

Both have attended friends' same-sex weddings. Both are sympathetic to transgender rights and have expressed opposition to laws restricting bathroom use in schools and public places to a person's physiological gender. Both have signaled they would prioritize protecting gay rights if elected.

Here's a look at their personal interactions and policy proposals on the issue of LGBT rights:

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Trump has long been comfortable with LGBT people

Trump's presidential campaign has been built, at least in part, on comments he revels in noting are not "politically correct." The result: statements that have offended various segments of the American electorate: women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans.

Notably absent from that list: the LGBT community.

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The New York Times examined Trump's lifelong ease interacting with gays and lesbians, several of whom he has employed in prominent roles and counts as friends.

Trump's general appeal on the campaign trail is tailored to working-class, white voters whose daily lives can seem like a universe apart from the gay-friendly enclaves of America's liberal urban centers.

While many of Trump's core supporters might not typically have much experience interacting with the gay community, their candidate certainly has. He has lived and operated in precisely those urban elite circles as both a Manhattan socialite and major entertainment industry personality -- two places where the presence of unabashed gays and lesbians ceased to be shocking decades ago.

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Trump's private golf resort in Florida, the Mar-a-Lago club, was the first of the uber-wealthy private clubs in Palm Beach to accept an openly gay couple as members -- club policy dating back to when he purchased it in the 1980s. One of those early patrons, Randy Hoch, told the Times that Trump would frequently greet guests personally as they entered the club and he treated Hoch and his partner the same as other members.

"He treated us no differently than everyone else who was going through that door," Hoch said. "He's perceptive, so I'm pretty sure he didn't think we were brothers."

Trump also was a financial donor for AIDS research in the late 80s, as the epidemic ravaged the gay community.

Still, Trump's stance on same-sex marriage is at odds with his personal history. He has opposed it since at least 2000 when he flirted with a presidential run. His selection of Pence as a running mate was hailed by the Christian right for his opposition to gay marriage in Congress and the governor's mansion.

Pence backed a "religious freedom" bill passed by the Indiana Legislature in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The law offered immunity from litigation to business owners who refused service to people if the business owners feel it is against their religious beliefs to do so. Under the law, business owners could refuse service to gay couples on the grounds their nuptials violated religious doctrine. Opponents likened it to legal discrimination against gay people and after a national backlash and threats of boycotts from the state's business community, Pence relented and signed a watered-down version of the bill.

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Trump has rarely spoken about gay marriage on the campaign trail, save two high-profile moments.

The first came during an interview with Fox News, when Chris Matthews pinned down Trump on whether he would commit to appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn the same-sex marriage decision. He said he would strongly consider doing so. His subsequent list of potential Supreme Court nominees generally oppose most LGBT rights issues.

Then came his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last month. Trump's prepared text included a passage referencing the massacre at a gay Orlando nightclub and his call to do more specifically to protect gays at home and abroad from becoming targets of "radical Islamic terrorists."

The remark was met with tempered applause from the conservative audience, many of whom oppose same-sex rights. Trump departed from his prepared remarks, ad-libbing a thank-you to delegates for beginning to move past the party's stanch opposition to LGBT rights.

"I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you."

Clinton mirrors Democratic evolution on gay rights

Two of the policies most opposed by the gay community were approved not by a conservative, but by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.

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Early in his presidency, he signed off on the Defense Department's "don't-ask-don't-tell" policy, which barred members of the armed forces from coming out of the closet, but also prevented commanding officers from disciplining subordinates they suspected were gay. In 1996, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred recognition of gay marriage at the federal level.

While the former president has since lamented both decisions, the Clintons' journey mirrors a long evolution in Democratic politics -- from acquiescing to conservative anti-gay pressure in the 1980s and 90s, to the party's support for civil unions in the 2000s that many on the left regarded as a half-measure, to expressing support for same-sex marriage in the wake of a tidal shift in public opinion in the past five years.

Hillary Clinton follows much of that track.

In 2000, her first time on a ballot running for Senate in liberal New York, she supported same-sex civil unions.

In the Senate, she opposed a Republican-led effort in 2004 to outlaw same-sex marriage via a constitutional amendment, but made clear she only viewed marriage as "a sacred bond between and man and a woman" and took offense to suggestions a vote against the amendment was tantamount to support for same-sex marriage.

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Pragmatists argued it was the most that could be expected of an electorate that was becoming more accepting, but still held a majority opinion marriage rights for gays and lesbians was a bridge too far.

As the debate raged, purists regarded civil unions as the same-sex equivalent to the separate-but-equal standard for blacks prior to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Fundamentally, how could something be equal when the laws weren't the same for everyone?

For a time, Clinton's position appeared the sensible compromise, especially after 2004, when the constitutional amendment failed, but a wave of conservative states passed voter referendums outlawing same-sex marriage as backlash.

In 2008, Clinton campaigned for president on the same civil unions platform -- no different than the one held by her opponent, then-Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton's more liberal challenger. Given their agreement, the issue was rarely brought up in the campaign.

In 2009, after she had left the Senate, New York's Legislature narrowly passed a gay marriage bill backed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, becoming the largest state at the time to do so.

In the highly publicized campaign ahead of that vote, Bill Clinton said he changed his mind and supported same-sex marriage despite opposing it as president. Their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, also openly advocated its passage.

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Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, did not alter her position and said she was still opposed to anything beyond civil unions for gay couples.

Four years later, as the dominoes began to fall, Clinton would announce a change of heart.

In 2012, Vice President Joe Biden became the first person on a major-party ticket to support gay marriage. His support forced Obama to answer the question for himself about whether his position had changed. Yes, the president said, it had.

Then, in 2013, after she had left Obama's Cabinet, but before she announced her second presidential campaign, Clinton announced she, too, had reversed course and openly supported same-sex marriage.

"Like so many others, my personal views have been shaped over time by people I have known and loved," Clinton said.

Libertarian Gary Johnson says government shouldn't regulate marriage

Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson has repeated multiple times the government should not be in the marriage business -- and advocates in favor of same-sex marriage.

The Libertarian hands-off approach to social issues includes in its platform a call to treat marriage as a private institution unregulated by the government.

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He has further stated gays and lesbians should be afforded the same full constitutional rights and protections as heterosexuals under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.

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