NEW YORK - The gay-rights movement reaches a milestone today when its agenda is the subject of a televised Democratic presidential forum. Yet many activists, craving bolder support for same-sex couples, view the unprecedented event with mixed emotions.

Though pleased that all the candidates of a major party are courting their votes and endorsing the bulk of their political wish list, they are frustrated that none of the front-runners is calling for legalization of same-sex marriage.

The Los Angeles forum is cosponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group increasingly influential in Democratic politics, and by Logo, the gay-oriented cable channel that will provide a live telecast and Web simulcast. Every Democratic candidate except Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut plans to participate.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese will serve as a panelist, along with singer Melissa Etheridge and Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart.

Organizers say the forum marks the first time that major presidential candidates will appear on TV specifically to address gay issues.

"Simply seeing the candidates step on a stage to speak to a national gay television audience may be as moving as anything they say," said Logo's president, Brian Graden.

Logo, available in 27 million homes, offered to hold a second forum for Republican candidates, but the GOP front-runners - less supportive of gay-rights initiatives than the Democrats - showed no interest, Logo general manager Lisa Sherman said.

The Democrats will appear sequentially at 15-minute intervals during the two-hour forum, never sharing the stage with one another.

All of them support a federal ban on job discrimination, favor repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, and support civil unions that would extend marriagelike rights to same-sex couples.

So far, only two long shots, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska, have endorsed nationwide recognition of gay marriage, which a majority of Americans oppose.

"No viable mainstream contender for president is going to support gay marriage in this election cycle," said Ethan Geto, an adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton on gay-rights issues. Geto suggested that Clinton's hesitancy on same-sex marriage stemmed from her religious upbringing.

One of Clinton's chief rivals, John Edwards, has acknowledged wrestling with his stance on gay marriage. "I feel enormous conflict about it," he said in a televised debate in July. "This is a very, very difficult issue for me."

He noted that his wife, Elizabeth, broke ranks with him in June and publicly endorsed same-sex marriage.

The third Democratic front-runner, Sen. Barack Obama, belongs to the United Church of Christ, which supports same-sex marriage, but Obama has not gone that far.

Many gays have submitted questions; Charlene Strong of Seattle said she would like to be there in person.

Her longtime partner, Kathryn Fleming, died in December after being trapped by floodwaters, and Strong was initially barred from the hospital room because she was not considered immediate family.

"I'd like the candidates to spell it out: What would you do to be sure that doesn't happen," Strong said.

No AFL-CIO Endorsement

The AFL-CIO has postponed making a unanimous endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary, freeing its 55 unions to choose for themselves from

the eight contenders.

"There is not a consensus candidate," Karen Ackerman, political director of the AFL-CIO, said yesterday, a day after the candidates tried to impress union leaders at

a presidential forum in Chicago. Several unions

already have made plans to endorse one of the eight after Labor Day.

The Democratic candidates will now increase their lobbying efforts on the AFL-CIO's unions, which represent about 10 million workers.

Although union membership has declined, AFL-CIO endorsements are prized for the money and the foot soldiers that unions can provide.

In 2004, the AFL-CIO did not endorse a candidate in

the primary, but backed the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, in February.

- Associated PressEndText