Draft Dem Platform Opposes DOMA, But Weakens Language on LGBT Families

A draft version of the 2008 Democratic Party platform, made available on August 7, puts the party on record in opposition to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

By: PAUL SCHINDLER | A draft version of the 2008 Democratic Party platform, made available on August 7, puts the party on record in opposition to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, in support of a “comprehensive” Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and more generally in favor of the fight to end discrimination against numerous categories of Americans, including those who are gay, lesbian, and transgendered.

But in the current draft, the reference to LGBT families has been made less direct than it was in the 2004 platform, and no comprehensive national strategy on combating HIV/AIDS is spelled out.

The 51-page document reflects the work of a drafting committee that finalized its efforts last weekend in Cleveland and will be reviewed by the full 186-member Platform Committee in Pittsburgh on August 9. The drafting committee included US Representative Tammy Baldwin, an out lesbian from Madison, Wisconsin, and among New Yorkers on the Platform Committee is Matt Morningstar, an attorney on Wall Street whose life partner is Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state's LGBT rights lobby.

The most significant strengthening from the party's 2004 platform is language stating, “We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and oppose all attempts to use this issue to divide us.” The 2004 platform condemned President George W. Bush's effort at the time to pass a constitutional amendment barring marriage by same-sex couples, but was silent on DOMA.

The new language would seem to fall short of a direct pledge to repeal the 1996 law. During the primary campaign, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive nominee, called for its repeal, while his chief rival in the primaries, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, argued the clause denying federal recognition of same-sex marriage should be overturned, but the law's second provision, enabling states to deny recognition to same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, should not be tampered with. She warned that repealing that provision ran the risk of reinvigorating the now-dormant push for a federal constitutional amendment.

In its language on nondiscrimination, the new platform makes two advances. First, regarding the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it advocates a “comprehensive” approach, language that suggest it would embrace protections based on gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation. The version of ENDA passed last fall by the US House deleted language protecting transgendered Americans, a retreat strongly opposed by Baldwin and more than 300 LGBT organizations.

The platform more generally pledges that the party will fight discrimination against all the categories of Americans protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its subsequent amendments, and makes specific reference to sexual orientation and gender identity as well. This general reference to discrimination holds out the hope that the Democrats are prepared to look at anti-bias protections that extend beyond the narrow area of employment to other areas of life, including housing, credit, and public accommodations.

In endorsing faith-based social services, as have been advocated by Obama, the platform states that the party will work to ensure that these efforts “do not endanger First Amendment protections and that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate,” a guarantee the Bush administration pointedly refused to make. Many in the LGBT community are concerned that faith-based spending has siphoned funds away from secular programs doing valuable work and that it supports religion-based services that discriminate both in hiring and in the provision of services, and also impose religious tests in the services they make available in areas like women's health.

Obama's announcement that he supports such programs earlier this summer prompted widespread criticism in the LGBT community and among Americans concerned about protecting the church-state divide.

As it did in 2004, the 2008 platform, as currently drafted, calls for the passage of federal hate crimes legislation, the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell military policy, and more funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and care. It specifically voices support for increasing Medicaid coverage for low-income Americans living with HIV.

The platform also endorses spending $50 billion over five years on global AIDS issues and suggests that the Democrats would be more willing than the current administration to have that money spent through the Global Fund established in 2002 at the behest of the United Nations. Though Bush has contributed some money to the Global Fund, the bulk of the US global commitment to date has gone through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. The Bush effort has included significant funding for abstinence-only prevention efforts.

The platform, however, does not — in the face of new statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that annual new infections in the US are closer to 56,000 than the 40,000 earlier estimated — spell out any specifics on a national AIDS strategy, which leading AIDS advocates this week called for in response to the CDC announcement. The current draft is also silent on the issue of funding abstinence-based prevention efforts, which have been shown to be ineffective but which the Democratic-controlled Congress allowed to stay in this year's budget.

One conspicuous watering down from the 2004 platform is on the issue of LGBT families. Four years ago, the platform read, “We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families.” The new language instead says, “We support full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibily, benefits, and protections.” It is not clear what motivated this softening in language, but the shift comes in a platform that includes no references to specific LGBT family concerns, such as partnership protections, adoption, and parity in government programs like Social Security.

Earlier this week, responding to queries sent to the two presidential candidates by the Family Equality Council, an LGBT advocacy group, Obama, after outlining a variety of positions he's taken on family issues generally, wrote, “We have to do more to support and strengthen LGBT families. Because equality in relationship, family, and adoption rights is not some abstract principle; it's about whether millions of LGBT Americans can finally live lives marked by dignity and freedom. That's why we have to repeal laws like the Defense of Marriage Act. That's why we have to eliminate discrimination against LGBT families. And that's why we have to extend equal treatment in our family and adoption laws.”

On the broader question of health care, the platform outlines its support for universal health care, and spells out a host of broad themes related to the party's fundamental disagreement with the prevailing Republican view of the issue. However, it studiously avoided coming down on a key issue that divided Obama and Clinton: the use of mandates to ensure that every American signs up for one of the choices the final system provides. Instead, the platform read, “There are different approaches within the Democratic Party about how best to achieve the commitment of universal coverage.”

Leading advocacy groups contacted by Gay City News declined comment until after the Platform Committee hearings in Pittsburgh this weekend. Baldwin's office did not respond to an email seeking comment.