Democrats Support Marriage Equality… Big Deal!

In its late August Summer Meeting in Minneapolis, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution “in support of” the June 26 marriage equality ruling by the Supreme Court.

LGBT Democratic partisans are touting the resolution as a strong rejoinder to the Republican National Committee’s recent endorsement of federal legislation to protect businesses and non-profits from discrimination claims by same-sex couples.

Okay, so the Democrats are better than the Republicans. No shit.

My response to the DNC resolution is, “Big deal.”

Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’ nonsense notwithstanding, the marriage equality question is settled in the US. The willingness of the Democrats to go on record in support of a done deal is of no moment whatsoever in political terms.

Where we need the Democrats to speak up is on the odious issue of religious freedom exemptions that the Republicans are thumping at every chance and on the broader question of comprehensive civil rights protections for the entire LGBT community.

True, the recently announced Equality Act, which would extend the protections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to our community, has the support of all the Democratic presidential hopefuls and the party rank and file in both houses of Congress. Support, however, does not always translate into commitment and action.

For the first two years of the Obama presidency –– let’s just say it, the LGBT-friendliest in history –– Democrats controlled both houses of Congress (the Senate commandingly) and yet the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which had languished for nearly two decades, did not get action. What the community got from that Congress was a hate crimes law and the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Democrats –– in Congress and at the White House –– did not get all the way down the list of the community’s demands.

In Australia this week, we saw a vivid example of how support does not translate into action. In an intra-party riff among the majority Liberals (who, oddly, are the conservative party there), Malcolm Turnbull ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The key issues on which Turnbull differed with Abbott were climate change (Abbott being pretty much indifferent to the issue) and marriage equality. Abbott has consistently refused to allow a “conscience” vote in Parliament on the issue –– where his Liberals could feel free to buck him and support the opposition Labor Party’s legislation opening up marriage to same-sex couples. Abbott countered with a pledge to hold a referendum on the question in 2016 after the parliamentary elections. Turnbull had said he would have voted yes if a conscience vote were instead allowed.

Now that he’s prime minister, however, Turnbull, perhaps in a bid to heal divisions in the party he just ripped apart, is sticking with the Abbott plan for a referendum (and he’s also not pushing any climate change initiatives beyond his predecessor’s position, either). So much for a new day in Australia. On marriage equality, the only difference is that, should the Liberals prevail next year and a referendum remain the only route, the prime minister will be a supporter not an opponent.

Here in the US, we know the Democrats support our issues, and that’s hardly a surprise since their posture is clearly in line with a growing public consensus. As Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson put it so succinctly after the Supreme Court ruling in June, the day of the “gay exception” to the rules of how our society functions is over.

That’s not to say that the rules will automatically be changed. Priorities are one factor. Even if a Democrat is elected president next year and the party regains control of the Senate (where they have a very good shot), the House is likely to stay in Republican hands. In the political horse-trading such divided government would entail, will the Democrats put the Equality Act high on their list?

And, it should also be noted, beating up on GOP resistance to gay rights is a very appealing political strategy. Being for us is good for the Democrats. Taking the issue off the table may not be as compelling.

As we head into election year, we need to hear from the Democrats not only that they’re with us, but more importantly that they plan to deliver.