DNC Swept Us Under the Convention-Floor Rug

With the unfathomable thought of four more years of the Bush Administration, those of us who want to see a regime change this November 2nd are facing some difficult days. And the challenge ahead to birth a new and more democratic government for all Americans was echoed in speech after speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Boston. So driven and single-focused were the speeches toward ousting Bush from office that not only were most of them scripted and sanitized, but many could be given at the upcoming Republican National Convention.

In the Democrats’ effort to neither bash Bush nor bring up hot-button topics that might turn off swing voters, the elephant in the middle of the convention floor was marriage. And as the Democrats donned Republican drag, the DNC left Boston reneging on one of its platform promises: to support “equal responsibilities, benefits and protections” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) families.

In the Democrats’ rhetoric to secure a safer world for all children, it does not understand that LGBTQ children must grow up with the same rights as others and that the children of LGBTQ parents must also have those rights.

The American Psychological Association (APA), the nations’ largest association of psychologists, endorsed marriage equality for same-sex couples last week. In a press release put out by the Human Rights Campaign, its president, Cheryl Jacques, stated, “The APA understands that marriage is just as good for our families as it is for others. Based on years of research, the group has found that the well-being of a child is unrelated to sexual orientation. In fact, the difference between parents like myself and my partner and the opposite-sex parent is that we don’t have the rights and protections of marriage while others do. This statement makes clear that there’s no sound reason for any disparity.”

And in Jacques’ address at the DNC, she said, “Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans share the dream of a better, stronger and more united America. We protect our country. We die for it. That’s why we seek the right to serve openly and honestly in our armed forces – to defend our freedoms and the rights of all American families.”

While “family values” was one of the themes expressed all week at the DNC, valuing LGBTQ families, with the right to marry, was barely broached. When I stopped delegates to poll their opinions on the issue of marriage equality, their responses varied, but all thought it was not an issue to be discussed at the DNC. Some delegates even got angry, telling me that it was rather selfish of LGBTQ people to bring up this issue at a time of such national urgency.

When I expressed to one delegate that denying civil rights is a form of violence, he told me, “Terrorists are going after Americans, not gay people.”

For some of the delegates who support marriage equality, they too did not want the convention fractured on this issue.

“It’s a non-issue. No president has the right to amend the Constitution or to use the Constitution to discriminate against a segment of the American population. We have bigger issues here to discuss like terrorism, heath care, the oil crisis, the environment,” Marie St. Fleur of Boston told me.

A delegate who withheld her name said, “Everyone in our family knew that Auntie Paul was gay, and every holiday he brought his man friend with him. They were together for 30-plus years, and their relationship outlived my two marriages. I think they would have made a lovely married couple, but we don’t need to discuss that now.”

With clear adversaries like the religious right and the Republican Party on the issue of marriage equality, we LGBTQ folk must also realize that we don’t have allies in our own camp – anti-marriage queers and fence-sitting Democrats and LGBT organizations.

With clear adversaries like the religious right and the Republican Party on the issue of marriage equality, we LGBTQ folk must also realize that we don’t have allies in our own camp – anti-marriage queers and fence-sitting Democrats and LGBT organizations.

“Delight isn’t the operative word, though – more like consternation. Placing marriage at the top of the gay political agenda represents a kind of surrender, and while I don’t want to ruin anybody’s party – or reception; it’s important to examine what it means to focus on the right to marry in the larger context of the gay movement,” Amy Gluckman, co-editor of Dollars and Sense and Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life , stated in her article, “Gay Marriage Blues.” She went on to say:

“While the gay-marriage campaign is certainly making waves in this election year, in some ways it represents a deeply conservative shift in gay-rights strategy. The legions who oppose gay marriage may be remembering something that its supporters have forgotten: gay liberation was supposed to be a radical, gender-bending, society-shaking movement. It wasn’t supposed to be a we’re-just-like-you, please-let-us-in-the-door tea party.”

Many LGBTQ opponents of marriage equality argue that marriage institutionalizes benefits, like health care and equal access to it, and that should be available to all people. And they are right: same-sex unmarried couples lose out. They also argue that the marriage equality movement standardizes relationships limits both ours and the public’s recognition of the various queer arrangements we set up. And because of the limitations the institution of marriage puts on us there are only two ways to be: single or married.

Also, one of the problems in the LGBTQ community has been the continued exclusion of bisexuals and transgenders in the discourse of not only same-sex marriage but in the larger discourse about queer civil rights. In speaking about marriage equality, a much better term many of us are finding out in the LGBTQ community on this issue, we are not only including bisexuals and transgenders, but also heterosexuals who don’t fit the prescribed performative and cultural mandates inscribed in the institution of marriage. While same-sex marriage begins the expansion of our understanding of marriage in today’s society, it is nonetheless only the tip of the iceberg regarding marriage equality. Many in the LGBTQ community argue that if we only focus on same-sex marriage between gays and lesbians, what we have is a conservative discourse that is asking for inclusion and assimilation into mainstream society without creating a new paradigm. However, many would argue that with the inclusion of bisexuals and transgender people in the marriage equality debate, we highlight that the debate is really about diverse genders and sexualities coming together for companionship, love and egalitarian partnership.

However, for LGBTQ folks like Gluckman, I can think of at least three reasons why our fight for same-sex marriage represents a radical and gender-bending stance the queer movement rests on.

First, while much debate is still going on in this camp about the right to marry in the larger context of the LGBTQ movement, nothing is more radical than wresting from the government a civil right that is our birthright as citizens of this country. This is not an ideological queer mussing about an elite privilege, but instead it is a constitutional battle about equality. Not to fight for our right to marry is a conservative stance that would not only maintain the present day homophobic status quo, but it would also show no agency on our part as society-shakers.

Second, while many LGBTQ people will argue that same-sex marriage is a safe, easy and conservative topic to pick from our many issues, nothing has been more explosive and incendiary of late than the issue of marriage equality. President Bush wants to amend the Constitution, and churches slam their doors to us. In Missouri, this month, a landslide vote will amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage: this sets an ominous precedent for states to develop ballot initiatives approving constitutional bans.

My African-American community is constantly posing this query to me and other African-American LGBT people concerning same-sex marriage: Given the deplorable state of the black family – single motherhood, teenage mothers, men with children by multiple women, displaced children and our men in prison – don’t we see that legally sanctioning same-sex marriage is as much of a threat to the black family as being homosexual?

Third, the effectiveness of the LGBT movement is in our democratic practices and policies to go where the voices of the majority are heard. And it is the voices on same-sex marriage that began the new clarion call for freedom, and our present day civil rights struggle.

Just as many LGBTQ people are opposed to marriage equality, so too are many Democrats. And they show their opposition to marriage equality in two ways – as either Family Values Democrats or Silent Democrats.

These Dems will be silent on the issue at the DNC in order not to fan the flames of the Right. However, their silent stance on marriage equality is as equally dangerous as our adversaries because it too is an attack on our civil rights. With the issue of marriage equality off the floor of the DNC, we LGBTQ people become pawns for both the Democrats and the Republicans. . .

As a Family Values Democrat, Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate, was quoted in a recent press release put out by the LGBTQ organization DontAmend.com as saying, “Marriage is a sacred union between men and women. That is what the majority of Americans believe. It’s what virtually all South Dakotans believe. It’s what I believe. In South Dakota, we’ve never had a single same-sex marriage, and we won’t have any . . . There is no confusion.”

There are many Democrats who say they are for LGBTQ civil rights. Unfortunately, with them engaging in a Herculean effort to unseat Bush, many Democrats see the issue of marriage as a potential diversion, if not a derailment of their election campaign efforts. These Dems will be silent on the issue at the DNC in order not to fan the flames of the Right. However, their silent stance on marriage equality is as equally dangerous as our adversaries because it too is an attack on our civil rights. With the issue of marriage equality off the floor of the DNC, we LGBTQ people become pawns for both the Democrats and the Republicans to use this issue to suit their agenda.

Many LGBTQ activists feel that our queer organizations are fence sitting because they are driven by the ABB syndrome – Anyone But Bush. And in so doing, they are selling us and the equal marriage debate down the river to get presidential hopeful John Kerry elected.

In his argument in favor of protesting queer organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and National Stonewall Democrats during the DNC, Andy Thayer, national action coordinator of DontAmend.com, stated on the web site:

“These attitudes are an insult to the humanity of every Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered person in this country. Unfortunately, the leading political organizations in our community have chosen to politically downplay the Democrats’ attack on our equal marriage rights, all while using the marriage issue in fundraising letters to swell their treasuries. Can you imagine the NAACP endorsing a candidate who OPPOSED legal equality for African Americans? Can you imagine NOW endorsing a candidate who OPPOSED legal equality for women. Shouldn’t we be demanding better from our organizations and ‘our politicians.’”

Delegates who were supporters of marriage equality were disallowed from bringing signs into Boston’s Fleet Center for what was cited as “security reasons” and that “the campaign wants to get a consistent message out.”

Of the 4,300-plus delegates, 255 were identified as LGBTQ. And where one would think that these people would have been the loudest advocates for marriage equality, they too skirted the issue.

With speeches censored and voluntary gag orders placed around the mouths of DNC delegates – both straight and queer – concerning the issue of marriage, in order to give the public appearance that Democrats are one big united and happy family, prime time television, for the few hours it aired the convention, broadcast the best controlled and contrived performance ever. Driven by the fear of losing this upcoming presidential election, the DNC exploited our chance to rally on our behalf, and they exploited their chance by avoiding the issue.

However, we must remember that it was here, in Massachusetts, that we made history on May 17 with the nation’s first legally sanctioned marriage equality. In order to keep the momentum going on our behalf, we need not get pulled by various tactical strategies or political propaganda that say marriage equality is a diversion in this election campaign.

Instead we must drive home that the real diversion in this election campaign would be to nominate a candidate who would not give us our civil rights.

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