By David Roach, Baptist Press
LAS VEGAS (BP) – Race relations, marijuana legalization, climate change and gun control were among the moral issues highlighted Oct. 13 at a Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas involving five candidates.
The issues of abortion and same-sex marriage came up only in passing and were mentioned only a few times during the two-hour debate.
Perhaps the most extended reference to sanctity of life issues came when frontrunner Hillary Clinton alleged Republicans suspend their typical opposition to “big government” to regulate Planned Parenthood and limit access to abortions.
“It’s always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say, ‘You can’t have paid [maternity] leave. You can’t provide health care,'” Clinton said. “They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it.”
Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, responded on Twitter, “Secretary Clinton, it isn’t ‘big government’ to stop the government from funding Planned Parenthood.”
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee was the only other candidate to mention abortion, according to Baptist Press’s tally, referencing his consistent support of “a woman’s right to choose” despite switching from the Republican Party to being an Independent in 2007 and then to the Democratic Party in 2013.
Chaffee, Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley each referenced homosexual rights.
Chaffee noted his consistent support of same-sex marriage. Clinton referenced “continuing discrimination against the LGBT community” in her opening statement. Asked by CNN moderator Anderson Cooper about her former opposition to same-sex marriage among other position changes, Clinton said she has “always fought for the same values and principles” but sometimes “absorb[s] new information” that leads to a change of mind.
O’Malley said Americans under 30 “never … want to deny rights to gay couples.”
The candidates discussed race relations on multiple occasions. Among the opinions expressed:
— Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders echoed the slogan of a cultural movement, saying “black lives matter.” Innocent African Americans in the U.S. at times “end up dead” and “their kids … get shot,” he said. “We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system.”
— O’Malley said the Black Lives Matter Movement is making “a very, very legitimate and serious point, and that is that as a nation we have undervalued … black lives, people of color.”
— Clinton, echoing a concern voiced by Sanders, cited the need to reduce “mass incarceration” of African Americans. She also advocated the use of body cameras by police departments.
— Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said he supports “affirmative action for African Americans” because of “their unique history in this country, with slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed.” He expressed concern about “diversity programs that include everyone, quote, ‘of color'” but exclude “struggling whites like the families in the Appalachian mountains.”
A discussion of marijuana policy featured a disagreement between Sanders and Clinton. While Sanders said he likely would support a Nevada ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use, Clinton said she was not ready to take a position on recreational marijuana.
Clinton added, “I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief.”
Sanders and Clinton agreed on the need to stop imprisoning large numbers of nonviolent marijuana users.
Climate change, the candidates agreed, is a problem, and they offered a variety of proposals to reduce carbon emissions. Sanders appeared to take the strongest stance on climate change, calling it America’s greatest national security threat ahead of the ISIS terrorist group and terrorists’ obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“The future of the planet is at stake,” Sanders said, noting Pope Francis also expressed concern about climate change.
On gun control, Webb struck a different tone than the other four candidates by arguing, “We have to respect the tradition in this country of people who want to defend themselves and their family from violence.” He noted that “people at high levels in this government” have armed bodyguards and said all Americans should enjoy the right to protect themselves with guns.
All five candidates advocated gun control to some degree.
The second Democratic presidential debate is scheduled for Nov. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa.