July 18, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Will Dems include marriage equality in platform?
Rep. Barney Frank

Rep. Barney Frank is on the Democratic Party platform committee (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The question of whether the Democratic Party platform will include an endorsement of same-sex marriage has reemerged after the naming of committee members who’ll write the document.

The Washington Blade solicited responses from each member of the platform drafting committee — both voting and non-voting members — to determine if they’d support including an endorsement of marriage equality in the platform with the exception of Tom Wheeler, who couldn’t be reached for comment.

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 — while others had different responses and the majority had no response at all.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee announced the names of the 15 people who’ll serve on the platform drafting committee, which will create the platform defining the principles of the Democratic Party over the course of the next four years during the second term of office that President Obama is seeking.

The platform drafting committee, which will be chaired by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, includes Democrats ranging from high-profile public officials, to scholars, to leaders of non-profit organizations. Among them is Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress who announced his planned retirement as a lawmaker late last year.

Other notables include Keenan, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Serving as ex-officio members, or non-voting members, are Patrick, Germond and Wheeler.

The first publicly scheduled meeting for the group is a national hearing during the weekend of July 27 in Minneapolis, Minn., where the committee will hear public presentations. The committee will then meet to draft the platform which will ultimately be used as a working document by the full platform committee chaired by Newark Mayor Cory Booker and retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the first female to reach the rank of three-star general in the Army. Veteran political consultant Andy Grossman has been named as the DNC’s national platform director.

The full Platform Committee will convene at a meeting during the weekend of Aug. 10 in Detroit where members will discuss the draft platform and have the opportunity to submit new proposed amendments, which need approval by a majority of the committee voting and present for passage. The platform will then be delivered to convention delegates in Charlotte.

Odio, who served as deputy Latino vote director for the 2008 Obama campaign and as a liaison for Latino leaders at the White House Office of Political Affairs, said he’ll “absolutely” advocate for a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform.

“I look forward to working with the other members of the committee to draft a platform that, like the president and the party, are on the right side of history on this and other important issues,” Odio said.

Odio is now director of special projects at the New Organizing Institute, an organization that facilitates for social justice through grassroots and online activism.

Miguel Gonzales, an NEA spokesperson, confirmed that Harris-Aikens would similarly support the idea of including marriage equality in the platform on behalf of NEA without providing a direct statement from her.

Similar statements came from the two non-voting members of the panel. Patrick expressed support for a marriage equality plank in a statement delivered to the Blade in April that has previously gone unpublished.

“Like the President, I believe people should come before their government as equals,” Patrick said. “In Massachusetts, that has meant that people can marry whomever they love. I am proud that marriage equality is the law of our Commonwealth and appreciate that other states are moving in that direction. While I do not believe that marriage is or ought to be the subject of federal law, I support the proposed plank as an expression of human rights for which the Democratic Party stands.”

Kevin Harris, a DNC spokesperson, said Germond is similarly in favor of the language even though she doesn’t have a vote in the platform drafting process.

“Alice supports a marriage equality plank to the platform,” Harris said. “While she does not have a vote on either the drafting or the Platform Committee, she will make her views known where appropriate.”

Keenan also sent a supportive statement to the Blade.

“I strongly support marriage equality and look forward to working with the other members of the committee on a platform that reflects President Obama’s and the party’s views on this and other important issues,” Keenan said.

Keenan added that the process for drafting the platform has just begun and will take time over the coming weeks.

“President Obama has made his support for marriage equality very clear,” Keenan said. “We are beginning the nuts and bolts part of the committee and we will manage details with this the same way we will all other issues over the course of the next few weeks.”

Spokespersons for the two members of Congress on the platform drafting committee — Frank and Lee — responded by saying they have no comment at this time on whether they’ll advocate for a marriage equality plank.

Eric Orner, a Frank spokesperson, said the lawmaker, who earlier this month wed his partner, Jim Ready, said the Massachusetts Democrat isn’t yet ready to speak about marriage equality in the platform.

“Barney has no comment on the topic right now, but asked me to tell you that he’d glad to talk at some point closer to the convention,” Orner said. “He’s still familiarizing himself with issues that may be raised in regard to the party platform.”

In an April interview with the Blade, Frank expressed lukewarm support for the idea of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform, saying he “would like it,” but thought support for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act would be more important for the platform.

“The only federal question is DOMA,” Frank said. “The federal government doesn’t have a rule about marriage or not, so I would want there to be a plank that says, ‘We respect the right of states to make this decision.’ I think what’s important from the federal standpoint is to go out against DOMA.”

Similarly, Julie Little Nickson, Lee’s chief of staff, said her boss has no comment on the issue — even though ThinkProgress earlier this month named her among 11 “most pro-gay” U.S. House members.

“We are not commenting on these issues for now, but Barbara will be happy to discuss with you when we get closer to the convention,” Nickson said.

A nuanced response came from full committee chair Kennedy, who noted the process for drafting the platform is very open and encourages public comment.

“Personally, I am progressive on LGBT issues,” Kennedy said. “But the specifics on the language on marriage equality — not yet teed up for the drafting committee, I don’t think.”

Kennedy didn’t respond to a follow-up email to clarify whether she personally supports the idea of a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform.

LGBT advocacy groups, led by the New York-based Freedom to Marry, have been pushing for the inclusion of a plank endorsing same-sex marriage — an idea that has received support from many Democrats, 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.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, pledged to work with committee members to attain the goal of a marriage-equality inclusive platform this fall and predicted the efforts would be successful.

“We are continuing to work for a freedom to marry platform plank, reflecting the support of an overwhelming majority of Democrats and substantial majority of independent voters, and fully expect that the committee members and ultimately the party will support and adopt a freeedom to marry plank,” Wolfson said. “We look forward to working closely with them and other Democratic leaders.”

A DNC staff person, speaking on condition of anonymity, similarly expected that the platform would address marriage equality in some way now that President Obama has expressed support for same-sex marriage. The staff person said he believes all 15 members of the platform drafting committee supports marriage equality.

“It goes without saying there will be some sort of marriage equality plank included in the platform,” the staffer said.

A list of those involved with the Democratic platform committee follows:

Platform Drafting Committee
Former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho
Tino Cuellar, attorney and official in Clinton and Obama administrations
Rep. Barney Frank
Donna Harris-Aikens, National Education Association’s Education director of policy and practice
Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East
Nancy Keenan, NARAL Pro-Choice America President
Heather Kendall Miller, staff attorney for Native American Rights Fund
Thea Lee, policy director and chief international economist at the AFL-CIO
Rep. Barbara Lee
Susan Ness, former member of the Federal Communications Commission
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter
Carlos Odio, Latino Democratic activist
former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler
Christen Young, associate policy director for Health Care with the Obama campaign

Ex-Officio Platform Drafting Committee Members
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
DNC Secretary Alice Germond
Tom Wheeler

Full Platform Committee Chairs
Newark Mayor Cory Booker
Retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy

National Platform Director
Andrew Grossman, veteran political consultant

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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