CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gay issues and speakers took center stage on the final night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, capping the three-day gathering that was more LGBT-inclusive than any previous iteration of the quadrennial affair.
One of the speeches that came earlier in the evening was from Zach Wahls, an Iowa youth with lesbian parents who gained notoriety for speaking out against a proposed ban on marriage equality in his state. He’s also an Eagle Scout who’s been pushing the Boy Scouts to end its gay ban.
Wahls, who’s straight, said support for the right of gay couples like his parents to marry is a reason he’s supporting the re-election of President Obama, who came out in favor of marriage equality in May.
“President Obama understands that. He supports my moms’ marriage,” Wahls said. “President Obama put his political future on the line to do what was right. Without his leadership, we wouldn’t be here. President Obama is fighting for our families, all of our families. He has our backs. We have his.”
Notably, Wahls cushioned his support for marriage equality by saying the belief that nuptials should be limited to one man, one woman shouldn’t be considered “a radical view,” saying, “For many people, it’s a matter of faith. We respect that.”
But that didn’t stop Wahls from criticizing Romney for opposing same-sex marriage and his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment.
“Gov. Romney says he’s against same-sex marriage because every child deserves a mother and a father,” Wahls said. “I think every child deserves a family as loving and committed as mine. Because the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us; that’s what makes a family. Mr. Romney, my family is just as real as yours.”
Wahls took to the podium immediately after a video was played showing the Democratic Party’s commitment to marriage equality, including a video with previously recorded remarks of Obama saying the relationships of gay and men women should be respected.
But that video wasn’t the only time support for marriage equality was celebrated on Thursday night. Democratic National Convention Chair and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, touted the first-ever inclusion of a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform.
“For the first time, a major party platform recognizes marriage equality as a basic human right!” Villaraigosa said. “This is a reflection of who we are as a party and who we can be as a nation, because as Democrats, as Americans, whenever we’ve opened up our party and our country, whenever we’ve opened up doors for more of our people, whenever we’ve deepened our democracy and renewed our commitment to equal justice under the law, we’ve grown stronger as a nation.”
Villaraigosa was among those who had called for a marriage equality plank prior to its inclusion in the party platform. His invocation of the marriage equality plank in the platform elicited thunderous applause from the audience.
Another video that played at the convention cited Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” playing footage of the signing ceremony for repeal legislation in December 2010 in which Obama said, “For we are not a nation that says ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ we are a nation that says out of many, we are one.”
Following the video, Iraq war veteran and retired Army Capt. Jason Crow, who’s straight, came to the stage to commend Obama for ending the military’s gay ban and expanding veterans’ benefits.
“It was wrong that men and women I served with could be told they weren’t good enough just because of their sexual orientation,” Crow said. “Soldiers who I trusted with my life, and fought alongside with, could be discharged because of who they loved. President Obama did the right thing by ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”
Support for President Obama also came from Alejandra Salinas, a 23-year-old law student at Boston College and member of the LGBT and Latino community.
The outgoing president of the College Democrats of America, Salinas praised Obama for both his support for the LGBT community and the Latino community.
“This president, on so many issues — immigration, LGBT rights, women’s health — has proven that he cares about all of us, and that he’ll keep on expanding opportunity,” Salinas said. “As a young, LGBT Latina, it seems to me that Mitt Romney only cares about an elite few.”
Perhaps the two most high-profile openly gay public officials — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — took to the stage earlier in the evening. Both are set to leave the U.S. House at the end of this year, although Baldwin may return to Congress as U.S. senator if she’s successful in her campaign for a seat to represent Wisconsin in that chamber.
Frank, the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress, assailed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney both for his positions on LGBT rights and claims regarding his success as governor of Massachusetts, calling the candidate “Myth Romney” for the allegedly false assertions he’s made.
Frank took a jab at Romney over his changing positions on gay rights over the course of this year, saying he once sought to surpass the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, but now looks to anti-gay former U.S. Rick Santorum on the issue. Frank was referring to a 1994 letter from Romney in which he pledged to Log Cabin Republicans to be a leader on gay rights and to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — a position he no longer holds.
But a significant portion of Frank’s speech was devoted to criticizing Romney for wanting to repeal financial reform, which Frank took the lead in passing as chair of a House banking committee.
“As governor of Massachusetts, the real Mitt Romney’s record on job creation was terrible,” Frank said. “During his term, net job growth was less than one percent, about one-fifth the national average, 47th in the country. The myth of Romney is that he never raised our taxes. In fact, the real Mitt Romney called his tax hikes “fees.” And in his first year alone, he raised fees more than any other governor in office. Some of those fees? Mitt created a $10 fee for a “certificate of blindness.” He increased the cremation inspection fee from $50 to $75. Maybe he didn’t call them taxes, but they felt like taxes.”
The line about gay rights was apparently an ad-lib because it wasn’t included as part of his prepared remarks.
Asked whether the line was an ab-lib and if Frank was winging it while speaking, Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson said, “He doesn’t ‘wing it’ — his comments are always very well thought through. He never simply reads speeches, even his most lengthy and complex ones. That’s what makes him such a compelling speaker.”
Earlier in the day, Frank faced criticism for saying during the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT caucus meeting that the Log Cabin Republicans were an “Uncle Tom” organization. In a statement, R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin, responded with his own attack, saying, “It’s a badge of honor to be attacked by a partisan hack like Barney Frank.”
Baldwin’s speech marked the first time an openly gay U.S. Senate candidate spoke before a major party’s national convention.
“But the Wisconsin I know, knows that having two sets of rules makes no kind of sense,” Baldwin said. “We believe in hard work. For decades, we’ve worked to make things: paper, engines, tools, ships—and, yes, cheese, brats, and beer. Give our workers a fair shot, and we’ll compete against anyone.”
Baldwin identified Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as evidence of his work in making “historic progress toward equality” for the country and made an oblique reference to Romney’s support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
“He repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ so that no American ever again has to lie about who they are in order to serve the country we love,” Baldwin said. “Republicans want to write discrimination into our Constitution. But the Wisconsin I know believes that with each passing year and each generation, our country must become more equal, not less.”