Democratic platform committee hears marriage equality testimony

DNC-250x250The fight to include a marriage equality plank in the 2012 Democratic Party platform is heating up as one LGBT advocate drew on support from Democratic governors and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in testimony urging platform committee members to adopt such language.

Members of the platform drafting committee are holding a national hearing this weekend in Minneapolis, Minn., and hearing testimony from individuals seeking certain language in the platform. Among the witnesses Friday afternoon was Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, whose organization is taking the lead in pushing for an endorsement of same-sex marriage in the platform as part of its “Democrats: Say I Do” campaign.

Slated to speak on Saturday also in support of the language was Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, a lesbian New Hampshire guardsmen who has been diagnosed with stage-four incurable breast cancer, as well as Michael Macleod-Ball, the American Civil Liberties Union’s chief of staff in the Washington Legislative Office, who’ll speak about marriage and other LGBT and HIV/AIDS related issues.

In his prepared remarks, Solomon drew on the “evolution” that Obama completed on his way to endorsing same-sex marriage, but also made the case the Democratic Party as a whole has largely been responsible for advancing same-sex marriage, including Democratic governors like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

“The Democratic Party has a noble history of fighting for the human and civil rights of all Americans,” Solomon said. “Living up to that legacy, Democratic lawmakers have provided the vast majority of the support for the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples in states and in Congress, even as ending exclusion from marriage is now becoming a bipartisan cause.”

Speaking with the Washington Blade by phone after his testimony, Solomon said the inclusion of a marriage-equality plank is important to keep up “momentum” in the advancement of same-sex marriage.

“At first the effort itself made a lot of news because we were asking the party to go someplace where the president wasn’t yet,” Solomon said. “I think every step towards our end game of full marriage equality nationwide is important, especially with the U.S. Supreme Court likely to take up some major cases next session, so we want to keep building momentum in every single way.”

While committee members asked questions of others who presented testimony, Solomon said none were asked of him. At the same time, Solomon said no committee members expressed support for a marriage equality plank during the time he testified, but also didn’t express support for any other idea presented to them.

A handful of the 15 members of the platform drafting committee have already pledged to advocate for a marriage equality plank. In response to inquiries from the Washington Blade, three voting members — Carlos Odio, a Latino Democratic activist, Donna Harris-Aikens, the National Education Association’s director of policy and practice, and NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan — went on the record saying they’d unequivocally back such language, as did two non-voting members — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Democratic National Committee Secretary Alice Germond.

But that explicit support isn’t held everyone, including a high-profile openly gay member of the panel who recently married his longtime same-sex partner. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who previously expressed lukewarm support for the idea of a marriage equality plank and he preferred language opposed to the Defense of Marriage Act, had at best an ambivalent take on marriage in the platform when asked about it by the New York Post.

“There may be a decision not to get into it a whole lot,” Frank was quoted as saying. “This is a strategic judgment.”

Solomon said Frank wasn’t present during the time he presented his testimony before the panel, although most of the committee was there, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

Still, in his testimony, Solomon credited the lawmaker for assisting with a previous effort to include a marriage equality plank in the Massachusetts State Democratic Party platform and called him a “tireless advocate” in helping with the effort to preserve a 2003 court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

“Congressman Barney Frank was a tireless advocate, making the personal case to many, many state lawmakers,” Frank said. “I remember Barney telling one conservative state representative, a bit tongue-in-cheek, ‘What if I want to get married someday?’ Well, this year Barney did marry the love of his life, and there are same-sex couples in Massachusetts who have already celebrated eight years of marriage, to their great joy and the great joy of their loved ones.”

Solomon similarly praised Kennedy in his testimony for his support, drawing on a speech the late senator gave before his death in 2009 in which he said, ”For all my years in public life, I have believed that America must sail toward the shores of liberty and justice for all. There is no end to that journey, only the next great voyage.”

Similar testimony is expected to continue later during the national hearing. Morgan, among the gay service members who are suing to overturn DOMA as part of a lawsuit filed by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, is slated to echo Solomon’s testimony in her remarks on Saturday. In February, Morgan met with staffers for U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to urge him to discontinue his defense of the anti-gay law in court.

But Macleod-Ball is expected to strike a different chord in his testimony. According to a blog posting on the ACLU’s website by Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, Macleod-Ball will advocate not only for marriage equality language, but also an endorsement of the Respect for Marriage Act; an endorsement of the Student Non-Discrimination Act; and including language to end stigma and discrimination against those who are living with HIV/AIDS; and strengthened enforcement of civil rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A general sense of optimism that Democrats will include a marriage equality plank in the platform pervades now that President Obama has endorsed same-sex marriage. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said earlier in this month in an interview with the Philadelphia Gay News that she “expect[s] marriage equality to be a plank in the national party platform.” Solomon and Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson have expressed similar confidence.

“I have every confidence this is going to happen,” Solomon told the Washington Blade. “I don’t see any red flags in front of us and I think today went just as planned, just as hoped for.”

The national hearing in Minneapolis is a prelude to a Detroit., Mich., meeting next month when the party’s full platform committee will discuss amendments before presenting the platform to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. in September.

Many Democrats have endorsed the idea of including marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Senate candidates Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warrenfour former Democratic National Committee chairs and 22 U.S. senators.

Amid calls to include a marriage equality plank in the platform, the Obama campaign has issued a response, although without attribution and with a statement was later clarified to mean that it isn’t an endorsement of a marriage equality-inclusive platform.

“The President’s personal views on marriage equality are known. The President and the Party are committed to crafting a platform that reflects the President’s positions and the values of the Party,” an Obama campaign spokesperson said last week in an email to the Washington Blade.

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