When President Obama announced his personal support for marriage equality, it was far from a legislative or policy-based action. The President’s personal sentiments on a matter don’t necessarily equate to any sort of realized difference for queer people, and there was some debate over whether it even helped his numbers at the poll at all. But now it seems like there may be a more concrete result of Obama’s declaration; it’s been announced that the Democratic Party will officially make support for same-sex marriage one of the “planks” for their 2012 party platform.
What does that mean? Whereas we’ve always been generally pleased as a community when an individual politician or legislator supported same-sex marriage, the entire Democratic Party now endorses marriage equality. Specifically, “language in the platform approved on Sunday not only backs marriage equality, but also rejects DOMA and has positive language with regard to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The exact wording of the language wasn’t immediately available.” While that statement hits some key points, namely “rejection of DOMA” and “positive language” for ENDA, it’s still noticeably vague. For instance, it’s unclear whether “rejection” is the same thing as a “call for repeal,” or what exactly “positive language” entails, and whether that “positive language” is in description of a version of ENDA that includes protections against discrimination based on gender identity and presentation.
If the details of the proposed “plank” are vague, it might be because the platform is still being drafted, and there are still plenty of decisions left to be made regarding language. A platform committee will review this draft in Detroit in two weeks, and then convention delegates in Charlotte still need to provide their final approval. The information now available about the platform was passed along by a DNC staffer who would only speak anonymously, but Barney Frank, who sits on the committee but is planning on retirement, was able to confirm that the 15-person panel unanimously voted in favor of including marriage equality in the platform. Frank also opined that media attention on the new platform was “misguided,” and that even more important was the fact that “by every action that should be taken, the Democrats in Washington have repudiated DOMA,” whereas “almost every House Republican had voted to reaffirm it.”
While a unanimous vote is certainly affirming, especially after “some LGBT sources” told the Huffington Post that they were receiving “pushback” on the issue from party officials as late as March, it isn’t necessarily a sea change. Politico reports that a “draft plank” available in February read:
“We support the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibilities, and protections 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.”
As of yet, it’s unclear how different the updated, post-Obama-announcement version will look — it seems that adding language about ENDA may be one of the more important updates. It’s certainly conceivable that, as Frank suggests, the series of witnesses ranging from Marc Solomon, the national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, to Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, a lesbian New Hampshire guardsman with stage-four incurable breast cancer, and the subsequent announcement of a platform change are largely symbolic.
If that’s the case, then we’re left to wonder what this move will actually mean. As has regrettably been the case for some time now, this election offers the possibility of queer people becoming a wedge issue, or pawns in a “culture war,” with voters falling to one side or the other based on how uncomfortable a gay kiss on Modern Family would make them. But it’s possible that the voting public, conservatives especially, are changing and growing. And while the Republican party is by no means a champion for the queer community, it is true that their polling numbers on the specific issue of gay marriage are becoming much more reasonable, with the majority of individual Republicans now supporting “legal recognition for gay couples” (although that doesn’t necessarily mean marriage). The fact that the vote on this issue in the DNC was unanimous may mean that they’re now confident that more voters than not will fall on our side of the wedge issue – or, more optimistically, that our families and our community can no longer be used by politicians as a wedge issue at all.