Voters in North Carolina are poised to ban same-sex marriage Tuesday with a measure that would limit marriage to one man and one woman, and forbid other forms of civil unions — even for straight couples. Democrats don’t just want the bill to fail — some hope their party will make a stand in North Carolina later this summer by unveiling a plank in the national party platform supporting marriage equality.
On Thursday, 11 state Democratic Party chairs signed on to the group Freedom to Marry’s call to include such a plank.
“In the last three years, we’ve made major strides in the fight for equality for LGBT Americans,” John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party and one of the 11 signatories, said in a statement. “Gays and lesbians can now serve openly in the military, a tough hate crimes law protects the LGBT community from violence and the Defense of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional. In the history of the United States of America, there has been no greater force for progress than the Democratic Party and as we continue down the long arc of the moral universe, the Democratic Party should, and I believe will, embrace marriage equality.”
The needling from the state chairs illustrates how state-level parties have been quicker to embrace gay marriage than the Democratic National Committee. Though the national party is still wrestling with whether to include marriage equality in its 2012 platform — a move its own convention chairman has urged — a number of state-level Democratic Parties have either already endorsed marriage equality outright or alluded to it with party platforms that discourage discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Nebraska Democratic Party’s 2010 platform, for example, expressed general support for GBLT rights: “The Nebraska Democratic Party supports the same civil rights for GLBT persons as those accorded to heterosexual persons. This includes employment, housing, and other basic human rights.”
Vic Covalt, the Nebraska Democratic Party chairman, said he expects the party to address the issue of gay marriage at their state convention in June. Covalt didn’t sign on to the Freedom to Marry petition last week — he’s waiting for his party’s approval in June, he said. “It’s not that I oppose it,” Covalt said. “It’s just that I believe that it’s a matter of the process of the operation of our party that I don’t take positions that they haven’t approved.”
Covalt said he believes the Freedom to Marry petition is a smart move politically since gay rights issues could motivate the Democratic base.
“It is a growing drumbeat that would like to see marriage placed on the platform,” Fred Sainz, vice president for communications at the Human Rights Campaign, told TPM. “I think an awful lot of the moves over the course of the last two months have been quite significant, like the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, Mayor [Antonio] Villaraigosa coming out, was very significant as well.”
A spokesman for the Los Angeles mayor declined to comment except to point out Villaraigosa’s March endorsement of including a same-sex marriage plank in the national party platform.
“We’ve won support from the senior Democrat in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, 22 senators, four former party chairs,” Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, told TPM. “Freedom to Marry is absolutely confident that more and more leaders will speak out in the days, months and weeks ahead and that the party will stand for what it stands for.”
Sainz was right on one account — on Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden Biden said during an appearance on “Meet the Press” that he was “comfortable” with same-sex couples receiving the same rights and privileges as other couples. On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was even more direct, responding to a question about whether he supports same-sex marriage on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” with a simple, “Yes, I do.”
Sainz is optimistic about moving the issue forward, calling the four months between now and the convention “an eternity in the evolution of an issue.”
But, Sainz notes, Obama’s “evolving” take on gay marriage is the real catalyst for keeping the issue in the news. “The only reason why this is being debated, I mean this wouldn’t ordinarily not really be much of an issue were the president still not evolving on marriage.” If not for Obama’s reluctance, he said, “this would be something that would sail into the platform.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.