Clinton's gay rights stance reflects well on Gore

Bill Clinton will establish a first for a US President tonight when he attends a gay rights dinner in Washington. But his presence is not just a political statement, it is also an attempt to extract his Vice- President, Al Gore, from an embarrassing corner
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The Independent Online
Mr Clinton's liberal credentials on homosexual rights have never been in doubt. He incorporated the issue into his political platform when he stood for the presidency in 1992 and one of his first acts as president was to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the US armed forces - against much opposition from the top brass. In a country where there is vocal opposition to homosexuality from the religious right, it was a courageous political departure.

Tonight, Mr Clinton will be seated at the top table next to America's currently most famous lesbian, the comedian and actress, Ellen DeGeneres, who is expected to arrive arm-in-arm with her lover, Anne Heche, just as she did - in a first even for the East Coast glitterati - at the White House press corps dinner two months ago.

The dinner took place only two weeks after Ms DeGeneres came out through her television character, "Ellen", in one of those fusions of art and life peculiar to American showbusiness. The climate of public opinion was critical - some local cable companies in the South refused to transmit the offending episode; some advertisers withdrew commercials that were due to run during the show; others accused the television company of a desperate gimmick to increase ratings.

Two weeks ago, however, in good time for the next presidential election campaign, Vice-President Al Gore moved to groom his own gay rights credentials - but the attempt backfired. Addressing an audience in Hollywood, Mr Gore praised Ellen - the real and televised versions - for forcing Americans "to look at sexual orientation in a more open light".

The wording was careful, but somehow rang false. He was trying to curry approval with a liberal West Coast audience, critics said; Or he was trying to banish the impression created by illiberal remarks about rock music made by his wife, Tipper, during previous campaigns.

The former Vice-President, Dan Quayle - a possible Republican contender for the presidency - dived in to accuse Mr Gore of "pandering to homosexuals". Mr Quayle is still remembered - fondly by conservatives - for lambasting another television sitcom character, Murphy Brown, in 1992 for choosing to have a baby out of wedlock.

It is indicative that Mr Quayle has never attacked Mr Clinton's stand on gay rights - it is too much of a piece with his politics. Mr Gore, however, is vulnerable. By attending tonight's dinner, Mr Clinton is supporting not only gays, but his ambitious deputy as well.