By Karen Ocamb
These have hardly been the lazy days of summer. While the eyes of much of the political world are focused on the presidential race, in congressional districts throughout the country, candidates, delegates and grassroots activists are gearing up for the conventions where they will determine what they want their Party to stand for. Having a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party Platform will clearly establish the difference between the two Parties since expected Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has signed the National Organization for Marriage's antigay marriage pledge.
For Democrats, that first public meeting is set for July 27-29 in Minneapolis where the Democratic National Committee's Platform Drafting Committee, chaired by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland with 15 members including newly wed Rep. Barney Frank and Newark Mayor Cory Booker will consider a plank advocating full marriage equality. The DNC has a website to receive public suggestions that's open until tomorrow, July 20. The entire Platform Committee will then meet August 10-12 in Detroit to vote on the platform to be presented to delegates at the Sept. 3-6 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. (The Washington Blade's Chris Johnson has an extensive report on the committee members.)
Party leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nev), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FLA) and convention Chair LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have already announced support for a marriage equality plank in the Party Platform.
But California Rep. Adam Schiff -- who said he wanted to be a leader on LGBT equality - has gone a step further, organizing the entire California Democratic Congressional Delegation to support a marriage equality plank. In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, July 18, Schiff said he had almost all of the delegation and was continuing to reach out to others:
I'm working to organize the California Congressional Delegation to speak with a united voice and urge the Party to adopt marriage equality as part of the Platform. So far the delegation has responded with great enthusiasm and we now have a majority of the California Members who have agreed to sign on and we're getting more members every day and I'm confident we will have not only a majority but almost all, if not all of our members on board.
Specifically, Schiff is asking Members to sign onto the Freedom to Marry letter to the Democratic Party Platform Drafting Committee.
"Over the past few months, the LGBT community has seen a groundswell of support for marriage equality, largely stemming from President Obama's announcement," Schiff said in a press release. "Marriage equality would extend one of our most basic rights of citizenship to all Americans -- the right to marry the person you love. Everyone should enjoy all the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship without discrimination. By making our belief in freedom and equality for all, including those in the LGBT community, part of the Democratic party platform, we can make marriage equality one step closer to becoming the law of the land."
The full letter from the California Delegation reads:
To the Members of the Democratic Party Platform Drafting Committee:
The Democratic Party has a noble history of fighting for the human and civil rights of all Americans.
We, the undersigned, believe it is time for the Party to hold true to this record and add to the legacy by taking a stand in support of the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples.
We urge you to affirm the freedom to marry in the Democratic Party by including this plank in the platform discussion of families:
"The Democratic Party supports the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibility, and protection under the law, including the freedom to marry. Government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times. We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples."
Numerous national polls have shown that a majority of Americans support marriage for same-sex couples. And Democrats overwhelmingly support the freedom to marry, with polls showing as much as 70% support. You are uniquely positioned to stand with the majority of Americans, and the super-majority of the party, and help make a real difference for families across the country.
We hope the Drafting Committee will fulfill its responsibility to uphold the Party's proud commitment to liberty, equality, and justice for all.
Thank you for helping to put an end to marriage discrimination in this country.
According to Schiff, here's the list of signatories so far: Reps. Adam Schiff, Lois Capps, Zoe Lofgren, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Thompson, Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, Susan Davis, Janice Hahn, Judy Chu, Grace Napolitano, Howard Berman, George Miller, Linda Sanchez, Loretta Sanchez, Xavier Becerra, Henry Waxman, Sam Farr, Mike Honda, Doris Matsui, Jerry McNerney, Brad Sherman, Karen Bass, Maxine Waters, Joe Baca and Pete Stark. (Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer have already signed).
Not on the list -- which Schiff said he launched about a week or so ago -- is strong LGBT ally Rep. Barbara Lee who is on the planning committee. The other outstanding Members are Reps. Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, John Garamendi, Bob Filner, and Laura Richardson.
Cardoza -- who's retiring -- voted against a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage equality but hasn't really revealed where he stands on marriage as a fundamental right for same sex couples. Same for Costa. John Garamendi, on the other hand, has long been a supporter of marriage equality -- as have Filner, running to be the mayor of San Diego and considered one of the most liberal members of Congress and Richardson. In the post-redistricting world, Richardson is in a tight race against fellow Democrat Janice Hahn, who has already signed on. (Incidentally, re-districting has resulted in four new or open competitive congressional seats.)
Signing onto the letter also matters for what it tells that representative's delegates to the convention. Some folks were startled Wednesday when Pelosi told Politico that Democratic members should stay home and campaign instead of going to the convention. This is particularly important for Garamendi, for instance, in his re-election campaign for the CD3 in the state's more conservative mid-section. According to the Sacramento Bee, Garamendi and his Republican opponent Kim Vann each have about $200,000 in the bank. The Cook Report has both Garamendi and Costa (CD 16) as "Likely Democratic" -- which is far from a sure thing. Capps (CD 24) and McNerney (CD 9) are both listed as "Lean Democratic" -- and they've signed the letter.
"We will certainly be the strongest delegation in the nation in our expression of support for equality at the Party convention," Schiff said. "But hopefully other state delegations will follow California's lead and we will go forward and make it part of our platform and part of what the Party stands for."
Schiff said he has not yet discussed the marriage plank with Villaraigosa, "though I think his efforts could be enormously important. And given his long leadership role on this, it would be a natural for him. And given his leadership among the League of Cities, he could also be very instrumental in marshaling support among mayors around the country."
Schiff emailed Thursday morning to say: "I met with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz last evening, and she supports the inclusion of marriage equality in the party platform. I'm hopeful and increasingly confident, as is Debbie, that we can make it happen."
Rep. Adam Schiff meets longtime lesbian feminist and Democratic Party grassroots activist Ivy Bottini at LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's LGBT Pride Garden Party at the mayor's Getty House mansion (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
That means starting to reach out to other members of Congress as well as those heading to the convention. Schiff said:
We are working as part of a broader effort to get Members around the country to weigh in with the convention. We haven't yet -- with this effort which is just underway -- thought of how it can be parlayed into reaching out to gain the encouragement and of our constituents and other people around the country -- be it at the grassroots level, among party delegates and others attending the convention.
I would think that, among the California Members, that those that are joining us in this effort will want to make sure that the delegates that come from their districts reflect the same priority. I'll certainly be discussing with the delegates from my region my strong desire that this be what they advocate for at the convention, if it's not resolved before then. So I think we can have a multiplier impact both on other Members around the country, as well as on the grassroots and the Party activists.
We'll probably work with the organization that is umbrella group behind this congressional effort -- Freedom to Marry -- and see if we can strategize to see what's the best way to amplify this message at the congressional level but also broadcast the message to the delegates and the activists because what others may be doing in other parts of the country we may want to emulate and vice versa so that we don't have to invent the wheel in all of our districts separately.
California has always been a progressive leader and other states often look to us -- often for well, sometime for ill, to follow our example. But if California wasn't playing a role, in terms of the Democratic delegation on equality, then who else would? We really ought to be out on the vanguard on this and I'm really proud of the response we've gotten so far -- which has been overwhelmingly positive.