Democrats hold 'gay friendly' convention

2012-09-05 11:09
Delegates cheer at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. (Charles Dharapak, AP)

Delegates cheer at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. (Charles Dharapak, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington — The Democratic National Convention is a watershed event for the US gay rights movement, which never before has been embraced so warmly by a major political party.

There's a platform endorsing same-sex marriage, a roster of speakers that includes three gay members of Congress, and a record number of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender delegates hailing from all 50 states — 486 in all, more than 8% of the total.

"We've been an underrepresented demographic in politics for a long time," said Jerame Davis of National Stonewall Democrats, a gay-rights affiliate of the party. "Finally seeing us appropriately represented is just a thrill."

The large role for gays and lesbians at the gathering to launch President Barack Obama on his bid for re-election is a striking contrast with last week's Republican convention.

The Republicans ratified a platform opposing gay-rights priorities and was attended by perhaps a few dozen openly gay delegates.

It also shows how far the Democrats have evolved since former President Bill Clinton, now a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage, signed a bipartisan bill in 1996 defining marriage as a one-man, one-woman union.

Campaign funding

Obama took office in 2009 as a self-described "fierce advocate" for gay rights, yet for much of his first term he drew flak from impatient activists.

They were frustrated that he wouldn't endorse same-sex marriage and wanted him to move faster to enable gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was repealed a year ago, and in May the president completed what he had called a personal "evolution" by endorsing gay marriage.

Within days of that announcement, previously reticent gay donors pumped several million dollars into Obama's campaign fund, and his backing from the gay-rights groups has been enthusiastic ever since.

The Democrats' convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week serves as a celebration by those groups and their supporters, many of whom thronged into gay-oriented events on Tuesday.

They were looking forward to speeches from three gay Democrats in the House of Representatives — Representatives Jared Polis of Colorado, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who is campaigning to become the first openly gay US senator.

Goal number

Polis, who introduced himself as a gay father, was one of several speakers during the opening session to evoke the party's newly formalised support for same-sex marriage.

"The America that I believe in ... is one in which loving families of all forms are respected and celebrated as the backbone of society," he said, "Diversity is America's strength."

The convention marks the first time that goals were set for each state delegation in regard to how many LGBT delegates they should include.

According to the Stonewall Democrats, 38 delegations met or exceeded their goal, and three states — Alaska, Arkansas and Mississippi — have openly gay delegates for the first time.

Davis acknowledged that 8% of the delegates might seem like an overrepresentation of gays and lesbians, given that many experts believe their share of the adult US population is less than half that figure.

But Davis argued that the delegate share accurately reflected gays' importance to the Democratic Party in terms of financial support and voter loyalty.

Identity politics

Robert Loevy, a political science professor at Colorado College, agreed that the large LGBT contingent made political sense even it prompted a backlash from social conservatives.

"The Democrats were never going to get those votes anyway," Loevy said. "Having gays and lesbians be such a strong presence in the party brings in some campaign workers and brings in the money... And most important, it wins the support of young people."

The Republican Party, by contrast, did not try to tally the number of gay delegates at its convention in Tampa, Florida.

R Clarke Cooper of Log Cabin Republicans, which represents gay Republican voters, estimated that there were "a few dozen" gay and lesbian delegates, and said he was glad that his party "doesn't do identity politics".

"I'd hate to think I'd been selected for something because of my orientation," said Cooper, suggesting that the Democratic Party and the Obama administration risked being viewed as pandering to gays as part of a "divide-and-conquer" strategy catering to special-interest groups.

Looking ahead to future elections, Cooper says he's optimistic that the Republican Party will move away from anti-gay stands and become more attractive to gay voters.

'Aggressive, divisive'

He noted that billionaire industrialist David Koch, a major donor to Republicans campaigns this year, recently told Politico he favours legalisation of same-sex marriage

For now, though, Cooper describes the Republican platform as "a stinker" that will not help Republican candidates this year because of its "aggressive and divisive language".

He said he was disappointed that Tony Perkins, a leading social conservative who heads the Family Research Council, was able to influence planks that took a hard line against gay marriage and other gay-rights issues.

David Welch, a former Republican National Committee research director and campaign adviser to John McCain, is among a faction of relatively moderate Republicans who wish the party was keeping pace with the Democrats on same-sex marriage.

But he doubts that the emphasis on gay rights at the Democratic convention will provide much of a boost for Obama.

"They're playing into the narrative that Barack Obama can't run on the economy, and this election has to be about the politics of division," he said.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  gay rights  |  us elections 2012

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Makeover saves dog’s life

Lucky Charlie got a complete make-over that helped him get adopted.



For the love of Corgis!
Can we communicate with our pets?
8 great natural remedies for your pet
Buying a puppy? Don’t get scammed!
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.