May 11, 2012
By Jacob Combs
In his thoughtful piece from this morning, Adam laid out a cogent analysis of what happened in North Carolina on Tuesday and made the important argument that our work there as a community was both effective and significant. I think Adam has done a great job of reflecting on Amendment One, and rather than rehashing his arguments here (which I happen to agree with), I thought I would look a related issue that has been making its way through the blogosphere lately: the Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Writing yesterday in National Journal, George Condon, Jr., points out that Charlotte and the Democratic Party are not the most usual of bedfellows. There are many reasons for this, all of them worth paying attention to: an unpopular Democratic governor retiring after her first term, a sexual harassment scandal that forced North Carolina Democratic Party executive director Jay Parmley to resign his position, the inelegant fact that Barack Obama will accept the party’s nomination at the Bank of America stadium. Add to that the fact that the convention is apparently well short of its fundraising goal, and Charlotte begins to look like a pretty unfortunate location for this year’s convention.
And then there’s Amendment One. Marriage equality has been making huge headlines this week, first with the passage of the anti-gay constitutional amendment in North Carolina, and then with President Obama’s endorsement of full marriage equality for gays and lesbians. Not surprisingly, there are many who feel that a state which just stripped gay and lesbian couples (and straight couples, for that matter) of rights that they already enjoyed is not the right place for a convention to be held by a party whose leader now supports marriage equality and whose platform very well might be amended to say the same this September. A change.org petition started just after Tuesday’s vote to move the convention out of the state already has more that 29,000 signatures out of a goal of 30,000.
These are valid concerns, and I don’t mean to minimize them in any way. But I do want to pick up on an element of Adam’s argument and take it further to apply to the convention. It may be a devil’s advocate argument, but I believe that Amendment One’s passage makes it even more important, not less, for the Democratic Party to hold its convention in Charlotte this September.
Although it certainly won’t happen now, the pundits were probably right when they predicted a marriage equality showdown at the Democratic convention this fall. We now know that Obama planned to endorse full marriage rights at some point before the convention, but even before we knew that, it seemed clear the issue was going to come up. Obama (we thought) faced an unenviable choice: muscle the party into endorsing his evolutionary views on marriage, or cave in and support the majority position, essentially leading from behind. Before, it seemed abundantly clear that the Democratic National Convention in 2016 would include a marriage equality plank, but it seemed much less likely that the 2012 plank would do the same. (Now, after Obama’s announcement, it seems nearly impossible that it would not contain such language.)
But let’s do a little thought experiment and see what the marriage landscape might look like by 2016. Almost certainly, the Prop 8 case will have been completed, seeing a likely return of marriage equality to California and a powerful Supreme Court decision repudiating the taking away of equal rights by referendum, at least in California specifically. DOMA would probably be history. Ballot wins in either 2012 or 2014 would probably have brought marriage to Maine, Washington and maybe Maryland. Rhode Island would most likely (finally) have marriage, along with other states, like Oregon or New Jersey. In essence, full marriage equality would look even more inevitable then than it does today.
That’s why it’s a big deal for the Democratic party to be ahead on this issue, and that’s where North Carolina, and Amendment One, play an important role. All the polling clearly demonstrates that public opinion continues to move towards acceptance for marriage equality. Nonetheless, while supporters now outnumber opponents, the margin remains very thin.
Obama’s position on this issue fits into his campaign narrative of a forward-looking candidate. Marriage equality is clearly part of America’s future, and a Democratic party platform endorsing marriage will put the party in the position of pursuing equality and engaging with a civil rights when it is still somewhat controversial. Thirty years from now, we’ll look back at the Democrats’ position and think it was the obvious one to take, and we will also look back at Republicans in shock that any party could so fervently advocate for discrimination. But today, the choice to firmly support marriage equality, (which all of the Democratic Party’s leadership now does) is a risky one.
Adam was right when he told the Huffington Post that “the movement can’t afford to give up on gay couples who don’t have the relatively good fortune to live in Minnesota or Maine.” The change.org petition seeking to move the Democratic convention away from Charlotte calls for holding it instead in a state that “upholds values of equality & liberty, and which treats ALL citizens equally.” Unfortunately, that would mean holding the convention either in Washington, D.C., the Northeast or Iowa. With the exception of Iowa, perhaps, these are all states which need visibility for marriage equality the least–to put simply, states where the fight has already been.
Of course, I would have loved for the Democratic Party to be able to add marriage equality to its platform in the first state in 2012 to reject an anti-gay constitutional amendment. But Amendment One’s passage makes North Carolina an even more powerful place for one of the parties to advocate for equal rights in its official platform. As our movement continues to expand its successes in reliably Democratic states, the battle is going to inevitably shift to more purple states where the climate may be less friendly and, indeed, where we might face some losses. But it is these states where we should make marriage equality as visible as possible. It is in these states where we can show that equal rights for all shouldn’t be a blue state issue. It should be an all state issue.
It was incredibly moving for me personally to watch my President come out for marriage equality just one day after our defeat in a state where I campaigned and where, frankly, I expected the margin of defeat to be much closer. For the same reasons, it will be just as exciting to see the Democratic Party take that same step in the very state where we worked so hard and lost–this time.