President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House in the summer of 2011. | PETE SOUZA/ THE WHITE HOUSE
As the Democratic National Convention gets underway this evening in Charlotte, North Carolina, the party has made a big push to circulate a campaign platform that is the most LGBT-friendly in history.
Drawing sharp contrasts with the Republicans in Tampa last week, the Democrats endorse marriage equality and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), reaffirm their support for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that provides protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, call for treating bi-national LGBT couples and their children as “families” under immigration law, push for greater efforts to combat the bullying of queer youth, and emphasize the need for a “science-based” approach to HIV prevention.
On the global stage, the party, in a section titled “Advancing Universal Rights,” declares that “gay rights are human rights,” in line with a speech Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made last December to a United Nations body in Geneva.
The Democrats also underscore their support for women’s “right to control their reproductive choices,” for Planned Parenthood, and even for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which fell short of the states needed for ratification decades ago.
The platform also differs from that adopted by the Republicans last week in the way its release was handled. President Barack Obama’s campaign circulated the document late in the evening on Labor Day, nearly 24 hours before the convention began. The Republicans appeared decidedly more reluctant to focus attention on the specifics of their platform. When Politico.com came across a section of the document that had been inadvertently posted on the Republican National Committee’s website the Friday before proceedings opened in Tampa, it was quickly taken down. By the morning of August 28, a day after the hurricane-abbreviated opening day of the GOP convention, Obama senior campaign advisor David Axelrod was ribbing his opponents for their stealth platform, tweeting “The GOP platform. One MORE thing Mitt isn't eager to release!” A few hours later, a final platform document surfaced, though with little fanfare.
(ILLUSTRATION: MICHAEL SHIREY)
The Republicans’ reticence may be part of the Romney-Ryan ticket’s effort to play down clear evidence that social conservatives had sharp elbows out in the platform’s drafting. The document states opposition to marriage equality and fierce support for DOMA in no less than three of its six sections; denounces the Obama administration’s effort to impose “the homosexual rights agenda” in its foreign policy; and, as it has in the past, calls for a human life amendment to the Constitution that would appear to foreclose a woman’s right to choose in all or nearly all situations.
Romney specifically disagrees with his party platform and his vice presidential running mate on the question of barring abortion in cases of rape or incest, and he was certainly eager to tamp down any further discussion of Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin’s controversial comments about rape just a week before the convention.
On LGBT rights, the Republican platform was largely hostile, though the Log Cabin Republicans trumpeted their success in blocking any mention of restoring the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy. Still, that section of the platform read, “We reject the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation and will not accept attempts to undermine military priorities and mission readiness.” That language was straight out of the playbook of those who fought to keep DADT in place. Several sentences later, the platform ambiguously read, “We will support an objective and open-minded review of the current Administration’s management of military personnel policies and will correct problems with appropriate administrative, legal, or legislative action.”
The following outlines and analyzes major provisions of the Democratic platform related to LGBT and women’s rights and health and compares them to comparable sections of the platform adopted by the GOP.
At the core of the Democratic Party is the principle that no one should face discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability status. Democrats support our civil rights statutes and we have stepped up enforcement of laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace and other settings… We support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because people should not be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. (page 51)
The Republicans’ statement on discrimination did not include sexual orientation or gender identity.
Though the Democrats speak broadly about ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the focus in Congress has solely been on an employment bill (opposed by Republicans), not ones focused on housing, public accommodations, or credit. Through executive rule-making, the Obama administration is combating anti-LGBT discrimination in federal housing programs, including those receiving government financing. The Department of Health and Human Services recently made clear that the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act bars discrimination against transgender people, who traditionally have faced broad exclusions in coverage.
The president, earlier this year, declined to move forward on an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. Some advocates voiced confidence such an order would be forthcoming if he is reelected.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY AND FAMILY RECOGNITION
We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples… We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act. (page 53)
The Administration has said that the word “family” in immigration includes LGBT relationships in order to protect bi-national families threatened with deportation. (page 51)
In three separate sections of its platform, the GOP condemns marriage equality and the “judicial activism” that has encouraged it, supports DOMA and repudiates the administration’s decision to no longer defend it in court, and endorses a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage by same-sex couples everywhere in the US. The Republicans assert, “It has been proven by both experience and endless social science studies that traditional marriage is best for children. Children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, engage in crime, or get pregnant outside of marriage.”
President Obama established the first-ever comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for responding to the domestic epidemic, which calls for reducing HIV incidence, increasing access to care, optimizing health outcomes, and reducing HIV-related health disparities. This is an evidence-based plan that is guided by science and seeks to direct resources to the communities at greatest risk, including gay men, black and Latino Americans, substance users, and others at high risk of infection. (page 35)
The language regarding “evidence-based” prevention planning is an endorsement for culturally competent efforts that rely on proven prevention techniques –– including condoms and, in the case of injecting drug users, clean syringe exchanges.
The Republican platform, in its discussion of education, touted “abstinence-only” efforts as “science-based.” It read, “Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. It is effective, science-based, and empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes and avoid risks of sexual activity.”
WOMEN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE
The President and the Democratic Party believe that women have a right to control their reproductive choices. Democrats support access to affordable family planning services, and President Obama and Democrats will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers. The Affordable Care Act ensures that women have access to contraception in their health insurance plans. (page 51)
The Republican platform declares, “We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”
Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has made clear that while he opposes abortion, he does support exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the life of a pregnant woman.
The Democratic platform pointed to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and included testimony from a gay National Guard physician who spoke about the impact of repeal on his family. (page 51)
The Republican platform omitted language from its 2008 platform pledging to preserve DADT, but included criticism of “social experimentation” in the military, an argument long used to oppose open service by gay and lesbian service members.
GLOBAL LGBT RIGHTS
Gay Rights as Human Rights. Recognizing that gay rights are human rights, the President and his administration have vowed to actively combat efforts by other nations that criminalize homosexual conduct or ignore abuse. Under the Obama administration, American diplomats must raise the issue wherever harassment or abuse arises, and they are required to record it in the State Department’s annual report on human rights. And the State Department is funding a program that finances gay rights organizations to combat discrimination, violence, and other abuses. (page 61)
This language follows up on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech last December to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and the president’s accompanying foreign policy directives.
The GOP platform read, “The effectiveness of our foreign aid has been limited by the cultural agenda of the current Administration, attempting to impose on foreign countries, especially the peoples of Africa, legalized abortion and the homosexual rights agenda.”