Lining up more closely with the homosexual community's agenda than Vice President Al Gore, Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley called for expanding the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect gays and lesbians.
Bradley also rejected the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for the armed services and said, "We ought to get to a time when gays can serve openly in the military."
The former New Jersey senator, in a gay and lesbian newsmagazine interview due on newsstands Sept. 28, went on to criticize a California anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative.
"If I was a voter in California, I would not support the Knight initiative," Bradley told The Advocate. "I think it's divisive and Â… I don't think a referendum is the place for this kind of an initiative."
Bradley said he still opposes same-sex marriage because of "the religious nature of marriage and respect for the diversity of views on that subject." Both he and Gore, who also opposes same-sex marriage, favor legal protections for "domestic partners."
Bradley and Gore, rivals for next year's Democratic presidential nomination, are dueling for the gay and lesbian vote.
On several issues dear to that community, Bradley, in his interview, came out ahead of positions that Gore laid out in a separate Advocate interview, published last month.
On the so-called Knight initiative on California's March 2000 ballot, a bellwether for the gay community because it would define marriage as between a man and woman only, Gore told The Advocate: "I'm going to have to educate myself on that measure."
Late Thursday, after Bradley's interview was released, Gore campaign spokeswoman Kikki Moore said the vice president had decided he would, if he was a California resident, also vote "no" on Knight. "Consider him educated," Moore said.
Going further than Gore's push for a pending anti-job discrimination bill, Bradley said he would add sexual orientation to the historic 1964 act outlawing racial, religious and sexual discrimination in employment, housing, lending and public accommodations.
"That would clearly indicate that discrimination against gays is in the same category as discrimination against other protected groups," Bradley said.
Such an expansion was first championed by New York liberal Rep. Bella Abzug in 1973. But in 1993, the gay community, following public opinion polls, pared back its hopes and pursued the more politically palatable Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Moore said Gore is focusing on the act as "the most practical way to move forward on an agenda of nondiscrimination" because "it can actually pass."
U.S. Civil Rights Commission chairwoman Mary Frances Berry, who was appointed by President Clinton, called Bradley's approach "naive."
"I hope it doesn't go anywhere. We have avided opening up the Civil Rights Act for fear that [conservative] amendments would be added to gut it," Berry said.
Jesse Jackson, whose influential endorsement both Gore and Bradley are courting, also weighed in with some skepticism Friday.
"I want to discuss it with [Bradley]. If there's an amendment that could include all people, that's fair," Jackson said. "But we would not want to open up that bill because, with this right-wing Congress, they could restrict it rather than expand civil rights."
In the military, Bradley said, homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly, but he admitted that he has not determined "the timing and method" of such a change to military policy.
Bradley voted in 1993 for a Senate amendment to lift outright the military's ban on gays. But Congress passed -- and President Clinton signed into law -- the "don't ask, don't tell" policy allowing gays to serve as long as their sexuality remained a secret.
In 1996 exit polls, self-identified gay voters accounted for 5 percent of the total voting public, and 7 percent of Clinton's support.
Bradley campaign spokesman Eric Hauser said Bradley gave the interview because the magazine requested it and not to court gay voters.
"He spoke from his heart," Hauser said.
Telling the magazine that he has gay friends but no gay family, Bradley said homosexuality "happens to be an attribute about as meaningful as having blond hair."