In his most exhaustive interview yet on gay issues, Republican presidential nominee John McCain answered questions from the gay media on Wednesday. At the same time, his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, stumbled with gay voters when she said being gay was a “choice,” ahead of her vice presidential debate with Democratic challenger Senator Joe Biden.

McCain submitted written answers to questions by gay weekly The Washington Blade.

While McCain was given ample opportunity to speak directly to gay voters on issues relevant to them, his answers rarely veered far from previously stated positions.

As president, McCain said he would consider qualifications over sexual preference when deciding on Supreme Court justice nominations, cabinet members or other appointed positions.

“I have always hired the most qualified and competent people – regardless of their political party, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation,” McCain said.

Earlier in the year, however, McCain made statements to the contrary, when he said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's pro-choice, pro gay positions made him an unacceptable running mate. If support for gay issues is a disqualifier in a McCain administration, then it would be safe to conclude openly gay candidates would not fair well either.

McCain reiterated his position that a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military was working, that marriage should be reserved as an institution between a man and a woman, and that no state should be compelled to recognize gay marriages performed in another state.

The Blade asked the Senator his position on a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage, and he answered predictably: “I voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006. I continue to oppose such an amendment today, because, as I've explained, this should be a state matter, and not one for the federal government – as long as no state is forced to adopt some other state's standard.”

Log Cabin Republicans – the gay Republicans – have praised McCain as an inclusive Republican, holding up his vote against the Federal Marriage Amendment as proof that he is moving towards the acceptance of gay relationships.

In an opinion piece titled McCain is the right choice published in New England's gay weekly Bay Windows, Log Cabin Republican member Matthew Tsien repeated the misconception that McCain believes in recognition of gay unions: “It would be fair to say that McCain probably supports some form of a 'domestic partnership'.”

McCain, however, clearly does not favor any recognition of gay and lesbian unions; this is made clear in the subtext of his remarks. While he did vote against the constitutional gay marriage ban, he makes it clear he believes states should forbid gay marriages and keeps open the possibility of reversing his decision should the need arise.

With those answers, McCain asked for gays and lesbians to vote for him, “I hope gay and lesbian Americans will give full consideration to supporting me. The stakes are high in this election. I will have an inclusive administration and I will be a president for all Americans.”

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe Solmonese was cynical about the interview, calling McCain's reach for the gay vote “double speak” that fools no one. HRC, a group that advocates for gay civil rights, has endorsed Democratic Senator Barack Obama for president.

“It's 2008, 'some of my best friend are gay' doesn't work anymore,” Solmonese said.

Meanwhile, Republican running mate Sarah Palin uncorked a firestorm of criticism when she called being gay a choice in a CBS interview with Katie Couric released Wednesday.

“I have one of my absolute best friends for the last 30 years happens to be gay, and I love her dearly,” Palin told Couric. “And she is not my 'gay friend', she is one of my best friends, who happens to have made a choice that isn't a choice that I have made. But I am not going to judge people.”

“While it is encouraging that Palin has a gay friend, we are still disturbed that a person on the cusp of enormous power could hold such backward and unscientific views,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, a group dedicated to ending the ex-gay movement. “We hope Palin will choose to educate herself so she will learn that being gay is not a casual choice.”

Pro-gay group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Director of Communications Steve Ralls also disagreed with Palin's statement: “While Palin says she does not judge LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people, she certainly judged them unworthy of benefits during her time as Alaska's governor. Why, if she will not judge and will not discriminate, did she campaign for a costly ballot measure that sought to single out lesbian and gay Alaskans as second-class citizens?”

“When it came to making choices, Governor Palin chose a path of prejudice against her gay friends,” Ralls said.

Voters, however, are likely to judge Palin on a number of issues tonight as she debates her Democratic rival, Senator Joe Biden.

On the net: Washington Blade website is at