On Feb. 13, Freedom to Marry launched their “Democrats: Say I Do” campaign, aimed at lobbying the Democratic Party’s drafting committee to formally adopt a position of supporting marriage equality into the party platform. The new platform will be ratified at the Democratic National Convention this summer. The current platform language reads (p. 52):
We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us.
The proposed new language would read:
The Democratic Party supports the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibility, and protection under the law, including the freedom to marry. Government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times. We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples.
Is the time ripe for the Democratic party to finally come out of the closet and say “I do” support marriage equality and not just wink and a nod at it?
Reid Wilson writing in the National Journal this week called marriage equality support “The New Democratic Litmus Test.” Wilson argues the 2016 Democratic presidential aspirants will inevitably include marriage equality supporters, and Democratic marriage equality opponents may well find themselves at a significant fundraising disadvantage.
In July 2011, President Obama’s pollster Joel Benenson and George W. Bush’s pollster Dr. Jan van Lohuizen were hired by Freedom to Marry to crunch the numbers. Here’s what their analysis of six national polls from Gallup, Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, ABC News/Washington Post and Pew Research Center (Pew) found:
The trendlines are indisputable, and a general consensus seems to be forming that marriage equality is inevitable, Vice-President Joe Biden even said so himself.
Among Beneson and van Lohuizen’s conclusions was the declaration that “support strongly correlates with age. As Americans currently under the age of 40 make up a greater percentage of the electorate, their views will come to dominate.”
And look who signed up right away to endorse Freedom to Marry’s initiative: the Executive Director of Young Democrats of America. YDA has 150,000+ members from chapters in 46 states and U.S. territories and over 1,500 local chapters. Emily Tisch Sussman writing on the group’s website said:
“As the Executive Director of Young Democrats of America, I represent young people, and the way we connect young people back to Democratic politics is by speaking out for what is right and taking action. Polling shows that 70 percent of voters 18-34 support the freedom to marry, and for many of our members, it’s a cause that goes to the core of why they consider themselves Democrats. It is time to realize that marriage is no longer an effective wedge issue; it is a cause that we as Democrats should be leading on.”
Leadership is the key issue here.
The changing trendlines certainly are signaling to many Democratic leaders the water’s fine, hop right in. The strong hand of leadership emanting from Democratic Govs. Cuomo, Gregoire and O’Malley in New York, Washington and Maryland were certainly key to marriage equality victories in the last year.
There is certainly a school of thought that Democrats should not engage “social issues” and that what voters really care about is the jobs and economy.
While the second part is almost certainly true, total disengagement from this “social issue” is not a luxury the LGBT community has the privilege to enjoy in the 2012 election cycle. Whether LGBT Americans like it or not, their civil rights will be going to popular ballot referendums, definitely in Minnesota, Maine and all but certainly in Washington and Maryland as well. North Carolina too will be voting on May 8 on a constitutional amendment to ban virtually all unions but opposite-sex marriage.
And for some inexplicable reason Republicans seem anxious to make 2012 the year of a resurgent culture war. Inexplicable as polling shows they are out if the mainstream on all touchstone issues. Abortion, birth control and even marriage equality offers increasingly no advantage to winning the hearts and minds of the middle.
Nationally marriage equality supporters are indisputably in the majority.
Viewing support through party affiliations, and non-affiliated voters, the divide is even more revealing.
Increasingly the GOP’s rhetoric preaches only to their choir. Supporting marriage equality offers little risk to a Democrat to turn off the base or independents. It’s becoming clear that the most adamant opposition is fast boiling down to a hardcore group of 30% mostly religious right conservative Republicans. And it isn’t at all clear that a voter that doesn’t support marriage equality personally considers a candidate’s support a deal-breaker in an otherwise acceptable platform of issues.
Believe it or note, even the Republican party seems to be waking up to this. Earlier this year, National Journal took the temperature of political “insiders”—political operatives, strategists, campaign consultants and lobbyists—in both parties. They found an amazing 20 percent drop in GOP’s appetite for opposing marriage equality in just under two years. All the movement on the GOP side was toward a desire to “avoid” the issue:
|Republicans insiders on marriage equality||July 2011
|My party should support it||14%||8%|
|My party should oppose it||30%||50%|
|My party should avoid the issue||56%||37%|
A smart strategist will attack where he sees his opponent retreating and 84 percent of Democratic opinion leaders recommend their party support marriage equality. Quotes from insiders included this from a Democrat: “It’s a huge demographic opportunity for Democrats because almost every voter under 30 supports it.” This one came from a GOP operative: “Only idiots fight demography.” In New Jersey, Democrats appear to have used Republican Chris Christie’s idiocy against him.
But often Democrats are more comfortable discussing the politics of contrast than playing them. To do that you have to get in front of the issue, and lead the conversation in a new direction rather than just respond to what the other side is saying.
As marriage equality support becomes the majority position it becomes less and less understandable to the LGBT community that leaders should treat the issue as radioactive or an electoral albatross.
There is of course, widespread anxiety about these various ballot fights coming to the 2012 calendar, and also perhaps anxiety at the prospect of a 2008 redux.
Think back to November 4, 2008. While Democrats had every reason to cheer, for the LGBT constituency, the evening was more bittersweet. The landslide win of Barack Obama, and downticket sweeps of Democrats did not stop Proposition 8 in California, nor did it stop similar anti-gay ballot initatives in Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas.
In 2009, during the ballot fight for marriage equality in Maine, there was some criticism that Organizing for America was perhaps, less engaged than many LGBT Democrats might have hoped. That ballot initiative failed narrowly.
Signs are encouraging that the larger Democratic establishment will be more engaged in assisting the LGBT community with these battles in 2012 than in the past.
In Maryland and Washington, the party has good incentive to unite. Like marriage equality or not, the Republicans are coming to take away the Democratic Governor’s legacy. Govs. Gregoire and O’Malley’s triumphs will be hollow, even viewed as a political misstep, should they be erased by voters. In both states, a united front of the Democratic base can assure the governors’ fight for the freedom to marry was not made in vain and the Democratic party’s legislative agenda vindicated. In Minnesota, the Democratic party, under the leadership of Gov. Mark Dayton is showing a fierce appetite to adopt the fight as their own.
Unsurprisingly, further south of the Mason-Dixon line, the news is less encouraging in North Carolina. Moving the date of the ballot initiative from the general to be concurrent with Republican primary was anything but helpful, at least for the LGBT community. And Sen. Kay Hagan’s comment she was “wary” of the amendment was described by North Carolinian Pam Spaulding as more “tepid” and “pitiful” than fierce, but still better than Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s statement.
The platform adoption is but one strategy for solidifying support within the Democratic base for turning these ballot initiatives into LGBT victories.
Adam Bink of Courage Campaign called adopting marriage equality support into the platform “constructive and important.” But Courage Campaign’s strategy is perhaps more pragmatic than symbolic and can be summed up in four words: “Show us the money!”
Courage Campaign and Grindr 4 Equality are focused on ensuring the DNC chip in to fund the campaign against these discriminatory amendments in Minnesota and North Carolina and ensure equal rights in other states because ultimately, money is what is needed to get our message out to voters in these critical campaigns.”
LGBT voters and their allies have put Democrats in office for years. Now it’s time for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to have our back and help secure equal rights. As many as 5 states (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington) will face ballot referenda on marriage equality this year, where voters will vote on the rights of same-sex couples to marry.
In 2008, the DNC chipped in $ 25,000 to help fight Prop 8 and then-candidate Obama called for a “no” vote. DNC Chairwoman and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told reporters she would “certainly consider” funding the fight for equal rights. Let’s show the DNC how important it is for them to help again.
Submitted to Madame Chairwoman as she considers the appropriating of DNC resources for the 2012 cycle: the voters these equality-minded organizers will be working furiously to drive into voting booths will almost certainly be disproportionately young, progressive Democrats. Please, consider how that might end well for everyone on election night.
The ask seems particularly effective coming from Courage Campaign as they have distinguished themselves as full-spectrum progressive organizer engaging on issues as disparate as fair taxation, racism, health care reform and countless others.
Michael Cole-Schwartz speaking for Human Rights Campaign said:
We are supportive of Freedom to Marry’s and Courage Campaign’s efforts. Having party support for marriage and a variety of other LGBT issues is important which is why we’ve testified previously, including in 2008, before the DNC Platform Committee. As we look toward these critical elections with marriage to be on the ballot in a number of states, HRC will be playing a substantial role in these fights.
The LGBT community has a good friend in DNC chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, a supporter of marriage equality. She has not yet commented on the platform language, but has a long history of standing with the LGBT community, including serving as vice-chair of the House LGBT equality caucus. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi has already voiced support for the proposed change in platform language. She also once said to marriage equality opponents, “The inconceivable to you is the inevitable to us.”
Human Rights Campaign, Oct. 2009 (White House)
But of course the
elephant donkey in the living room is the awkward optics of a party adopting a position that the party leader does not share. (Although exactly such a situation already transpired late last year in Australia on precisely this issue.) This almost certainly presents the biggest hurdle to the successful adoption.
But even the party leader himself seems to be acknowledging the inevitable telling Joe Sudbay and gathered bloggers in October 2010:
THE PRESIDENT: The one thing I will say today is I think it’s pretty clear where the trendlines are going.
Q: The arc of history.
THE PRESIDENT: The arc of history.
The biggest point of debate seems to be when he will—or should—get on the correct side of the arc of history?
Not everyone has lost faith the president’s position will fail to complete its evolution before November 6, 2012. In December, former Clinton White House advisor Richard Socarides wrote of Prop 8 and DOMA constitutional challenges in the New Yorker:
The potential for those decisions, together with a rapid change in public opinion in favor of marriage equality, have clearly become factors in President Obama’s thinking. As a result, I believe that he will announce his support for same-sex marriage before the 2012 election.
Might the president announce his personal endorsement concurrent with that of his party?
It certainly would put a bold exclamation point on his likely place in history as the first American president to declare the freedom to marry as a fundamental human right for every loving couple.