The first televised presidential forum devoted to gay rights issues

At the first-ever televised presidential forum devoted to gay rights issues, Democratic candidates focused largely on restating pro-gay stances they have taken throughout the campaign, namely ending the "don't ask, don't tell policy" on gays in the military and backing efforts to allow civil unions.

"I think it's a historic moment, not just for the LGBT community but for America," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. "I'm glad that I'm participating."

At the same time, when Obama was asked several times why he would not back gay marriage, he shifted from what he called semantics of the word "marriage" and pledged to ensure that all gay couples had the same rights as married couples.

The Hollywood forum, organized by the Human Rights Campaign and Logo, a gay-themed television network operated by MTV, underscored the increasing importance of the constituency to the Democratic Party. When a similar forum was held in 2003, one of the top contenders, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., did not attend, and the event was not televised, reports.

The forum was staged before about 200 invited guests at a small Hollywood studio and televised live on Logo, a cable and satellite network aimed at gays and lesbians.

The panelists tried to draw out Clinton, Obama, Edwards and Richardson on their opposition to expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

None of them budged, all saying instead that they think gays and lesbians should be afforded the rights of married couples through civil unions.

"It's not for me to suggest that you shouldn't be troubled by these issues," Obama said when a panelist asked if he could understand why gays would see that stance as unfair and unequal. "I understand that, and I'm sympathetic to it. But my job as president is going to be to make sure that the legal rights that have consequences on a day-to-day basis for loving, same-sex couples all across the country, that those are recognized and enforced," Los Angeles Times reports.