September 28, 2015 at 2:02 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
DNC chair expects 2016 platform to include Equality Act
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz predicts the 2016 platform will include the Equality Act. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NEW YORK — Following the introduction of comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation in Congress, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she “would expect” the upcoming 2016 Democratic Party platform to include support for the Equality Act.

“I would expect so. I can’t envision our platform not including that,” Wasserman Schultz said speaking to LGBT reporters during an LGBT gala for the DNC in New York City’s Gotham Hall.

Wasserman Schultz addressed the platform in the context of the DNC recently approving a resolution in support of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of nationwide marriage equality. Asked about any upcoming resolution in favor of the Equality Act, Wasserman Schultz predicted one would be forthcoming.

“I’m confident that we have a resolution standing up in support of the Equality Act,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The rights of the LGBT community are the central civil rights issue of our time, and they are an extremely important part of our party. I would assume we take every opportunity to draw a contrast with Republicans, and to back up our brothers and sisters and emphasize how important their rights are.”

The DNC chair also said she “100 percent, absolutely” expects the Democratic Party to oppose the Republican Party on the invocation of religious liberty to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, saying those efforts are already underway.

The Equality Act, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act in addition to sex in other categories of the code where it was previously unstated.

Wasserman Schultz addressed the legislation in a discussion with reporters that included a range of topics, including Pope Francis’ address to Congress, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement he would exit Congress.

On the pope’s speech, Wasserman Schultz said the biggest takeaway was his emphasis on dialogue “rather than having a very black-and-white, stark contrast” between different sides on important issues.

“We need dialogue on climate change, we need dialogue on health care and on immigration reform,” Wasserman Schultz said. “He really has moved, I think, toward the idea that we can find common ground on some of these incredibly important issues that affect so many people rather than being so dogmatic, and I think that’s important.”

Asked whether she thought the pope’s expressed concern about marriage being called into question was intended as a criticism of same-sex marriage, Wasserman Schultz said she “didn’t take it that way.”

“I thought his tonality was measured, and I really heard in the pope’s remarks at that point in his speech really an emphasis on the support and the need for the strength of the family,” Wasserman Schultz said. “He did, obviously, make some passing references to church doctrine, which of course, you would expect, but I thought it was done in a way that did what we he felt he needed to do, but the focus on his speech was certainly not that.”

The tone of Francis’ words, Wasserman Schultz said, was the greatest gain for the LGBT community — both in his speech and more generally in his tenure as pope.

“Since he became pope, I think he really has emphasized tonality, tolerance and that we’re all God’s children and I think you would have been able to hear that message throughout his tenure thus far, and I think he emphasized that when he spoke to the joint session,” Wasserman Schultz said.

On recent news Davis would change parties from Democrat to Republican after gaining nationwide attention for enforcing a “no licenses” policy after the Supreme Court marriage decision, Wasserman Schulz indicated the decision was a good one.

“She clearly hasn’t been representing the views of the Democratic Party,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It would make sense that that’s where she’s more comfortable.”

The DNC chair, who represents Florida’s 23rd congressional district in Congress, said she wasn’t surprised by Boehner’s announcement that he’d give up his seat, saying, “How much abuse can one person take?”

Wasserman Schultz said although she’d like policy to move through Congress, she doesn’t expect that to happen because the Tea Party is emboldened by Boehner’s resignation.

“They have Boehner’s head to show for their effort,” she said. “There’s going to be consequences and hell to pay for anyone else who crosses them going forward.”

Asked to identify an achievement by Boehner for LGBT people during his tenure as speaker, Wasserman Schultz named the passage of LGBT-inclusive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.

“He deserves credit for not continuing to block it,” Wasserman Schultz said.

She professed to be unaware of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s attack on openly gay Army secretary nominee Eric Fanning over his sexual orientation.

Maintaining Obama has consistently nominated qualified individuals to administrative posts, Wasserman Schultz said, “Mike Huckabee has shown just how horrifically bigoted and discriminatory he is. So nothing that comes out of his mouth related to the LGBT community or any other hateful thing he says surprises me.”

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

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