WASHINGTON -- Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton told the nation's leading gay rights group in an unpublicized speech that she wants a partnership with gays if elected president.
Clinton also said she opposes the "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gays in the military that was instituted during her husband's presidency.
"I am proud to stand by your side," Clinton said in a keynote speech Friday to the Human Rights Campaign. Neither Clinton's campaign nor her Senate office made any announcement that she would be making the Friday address.
In the speech, Clinton joked that she shares the same initials as the group, and pledged to maintain the same close working relationship that last year helped defeat the federal amendment which would have banned same-sex marriage.
"I want you to know that this is exactly the kind of partnership we will have when I am president," Clinton told the group. "I want you to know that just as you always have an open door to my senate office, you will always have an open door to the White House and together we can continue this journey."
Clinton's husband Bill Clinton was president when the Pentagon instituted the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which says gays may serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientation private. In 1999, as she prepared to run for the Senate from New York, Clinton publicly opposed that policy.
Previous to Bill Clinton's administration, gays were flatly forbidden from serving in the military.
Sen. Clinton said it would be safer for the nation if openly gay soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen could wear the uniform.
"This policy doesn't just hurt gays and lesbians, it hurts all our troops and this to me is a matter of national security and we're going to fix it," Clinton said.
Her chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, John Edwards and Barack Obama, also favor repealing the policy.
She also attacked the Bush administration for making political appeals based on gay rights issues, vowing that her presidency would mark "the end of leadership that has politicized the most personal and intimate issues."
Human Rights Campaign vice president David Smith said Clinton's comments were "very well received," though he added the group is not endorsing any candidate and does not anticipate making an endorsement "anytime soon."
Clinton spokesman Blake Zeff said Tuesday the candidate "affirmed her desire to have a strong partnership with the community as president," adding they were "delighted" the speech was available on the Internet.
Clinton aides said no announcement was made because the group's gathering is traditionally closed to the press. Video of the speech was posted on the group's Web site.
Smith said such annual board meetings have always been closed to the press, but it was the first time he could remember that a speech at such a meeting had been made public afterward.
"There's no contradiction," he said. "The event is always closed to the press and we wanted to make (the remarks) available for people to see."