Polls show that homosexual rights is one of the issues about which Americans are most ambivalent. So it is no surprise that, while homosexuals have enjoyed a growing social acceptance through the 1970s and 1980s, this is the first presidential election in which gay rights has been taken up as an issue by the candidates. An openly homosexual man with AIDS and a lesbian addressed the Democratic convention. Meanwhile, at the Republican convention, conservative Patrick Buchanan spoke against offering "preferent ial treatment" to homosexuals by giving them protected minority status. BUSH

His traditional family-values theme pointedly excludes homosexual lifestyles.

He says he doesn't consider being gay to be "normal." Nor can he accept as normal a couple of the same sex as parents. He supports the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, and does not support legislation that would extend civil rights guarantees on the basis of sexual orientation.

However, he says he is not "anti-homosexual," having ordered a federal study of hate crimes, including those against homosexuals.

He says he wouldn't purposely exclude gays from his Cabinet.

His administration endured criticism from the far right for allowing campaign chairman Robert Mosbacher, whose daughter is openly lesbian, to address gay leaders. CLINTON

Was the first presidential nominee ever to mention gays in his acceptance speech.

He says he will issue executive orders to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the military and the diplomatic corps.

He would support protecting gays from discrimination by including sexual orientation as part of the Civil Rights Act and would support aggressive prosecution of anti-gay hate crimes. He does not support extending marital rights to gay couples.

Most homosexual rights groups endorse him. PEROT

"What people do in their own private lives is their own business," he says. But a history of mixed messages makes it unclear just how firmly he stands for homosexual rights.

In July, he said he wouldn't appoint homosexuals or adulterers to his Cabinet. This, he said, would be a protection to them from public scrutiny.

But his campaign literature states: "My policy for the nation will be that each person should be judged on merit and that any discrimination based on gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation will not be tolerated."

However, it does not say whether he would back legislation to that effect.

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