In unanimous decision on July 29, the drafting committee for the Democratic National Convention embraced marriage equality as part of the platform for the 2012 Convention. The next step will be for the full platform committee to vote on it, after which it will be presented to the delegates at the Convention in Charlotte for a final vote.
The Democratic Party, after a long and winding road, is finally getting there on gay marriage. Most refreshingly, the Party is looking to take a strong moral stand on an important social issue. That act of taking a moral stand, in itself, could be a turning point for a Party that long ago lost its moral compass. In the 90’s, during the Clinton years, it rejected its progressive roots in favor of a neoliberal agenda that primarily serves the needs of the wealthy and well connected. Support for gay marriage could help the party return to what it should be doing—representing the interests of the poor and middle classes, including the special needs of minorities, women, gays and lesbians, children, and the elderly.
If the Democratic Party is going to win in November, it has to draw a sharp contrast between itself and the Republican Party. The way to do that is to reject “Republican lite,” and become, once again, the party that serves the needs of the majority. The majority will know that the Democratic Party is different by the concrete actions it takes on its behalf. The Democratic Party has to start doing what is right for the majority rather than doing what is politically expedient, making strategic calculations that protect relationships with donors, and legislating in ways that are economically beneficial for the careers of its elected and appointed officials.
Doing what is right often requires taking a moral stand.
By “moral stand,” I mean regarding others with respect and treating them with dignity; accepting that we are all interconnected and have a responsibility to care for one another; and, having the motivation and intention to relieve suffering and promote happiness whenever possible. Taking a moral stand assumes these values. It rejects the greed of free market capitalism, the selfishness of the Republican worldview, and the harsh, punishing, judgmental attitude of fundamentalist religions.
Some additional moral lines in the sand that Democrats could draw: raise the cap on payroll taxes to fully fund Medicare and Social Security, double social security benefits, and extend Medicare to everyone. That’s just for starters. Democrats not only have to draw moral lines in the sand and differentiate their values from Republicans, they have to make a forceful case for policies that serve the needs and interests of the majority. The voters, on the other hand, have to trust that Democrats stand with them and not with Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, Big Pharma or Monsanto.
Supporting gay marriage is a no brainer
A recent Pew Research poll shows a dramatic increase in the acceptance of gay marriage since 2004. Among the total public, support is up 9%; among Democrats, it’s up 15%; and among Independents, up 7%. Even for Republican support for gay marriage is up 5%! Today, nearly two thirds of Democrats, or 65%, support gay marriage. Even though there are forces on the religious right working against gay marriage, and reactionary State Houses passing anti-gay marriage laws, the momentum is on the side of those who support equality for gays and lesbians.
By supporting gay marriage, the Democratic Party shows support for the gay and lesbian community which could turn out more enthusiastically for Obama. As a constituency, we are more vocal and more “out” than ever before. Large companies like Boeing, Apple and Microsoft are openly supportive of gay employees, and in many work environments, large and small, it’s safe to be out. Because there are more of us visible in the media, in the work place, in the military, at school and more of us are out to family and friends, the number of people who know and support gays and lesbians is growing. Together, we make up a significant voting block. If you know and love a gay person, it’s going to be more difficult for you to back a Republican with an anti-gay agenda. It’s not longer a political opinion to accept or reject. It becomes personal.
The Republican fueled religious right—along with the Catholic and Mormon hierarchy—tries to sell the idea that gay and lesbian marriage is a threat to heterosexual marriage. But it’s getting harder to make the case that gay marriage weakens or delegitimizes heterosexual marriage. Except for members of the Tea Party and the religious right who refuse to deal with reality, everybody knows that heterosexual marriages crash and burn every day on their own. The fact that one in two marriages ends in divorce has nothing to do with Bill and Joe, or Brenda and Sharon, choosing to marry.
Through much of its first term, the Obama administration pretended it never made promises to the gay and lesbian community or enlisted its help in winning the election. When gay and lesbian leaders met with administration officials in the White House to complain about a lack of progress on issues, they were told that the president’s view on gay marriage was evolving—a strange statement since during his 1996 race for the Illinois State Senate, Obama expressed an “unequivocal support for gay marriage.” The response from the understandably impatient gay community was “evolve already.” It appears that for the good of the country, and for the good of the Party, he has.