Democratic Party Adds Gay Marriage to Platform, Still No Word on Federal Law

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Photo: Brendan Smialowski/2009 Getty Images

Just four years ago, the Democratic presidential candidates were divided on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalized. Now, in another sign of how quickly the party has "evolved" on the issue, the Democratic Party plans to include support for gay unions in its official party platform, which will be formally approved during the convention. While the party is hoping the move will invigorate its base (not to mention wealthy donors), there's concern that it could hurt Democrats in more conservative areas of the country. Plus, it's unclear whether the platform will actually present specific steps for promoting marriage equality across the country.

Today Representative Barney Frank, who sits on the party's drafting committee, told the Washington Blade that a platform including a gay marriage plank was unanimously approved by a fifteen-member panel at a weekend hearing in Minneapolis. An anonymous Democratic National Committee staffer said that the current version includes a rejection of Defense of Marriage Act and positive language on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The platform is still in the draft stage and may change before it's presented in September.

LGBT activists are praising the move, but some in the party are concerned that it could backfire. It's likely to complicate the races for Democrats facing tough battles in red-leaning states, including Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri,  Senator Jon Tester of Montana, and Tim Kaine, who's running for Senate in Virginia. It may also wind up energizing supporters of traditional marriage more than those who support same-sex unions.

The shift wouldn't have been possible if President Obama hadn't supported same-sex marriage two months ago. As the New York Times notes, the 2008 platform contained similar language opposing DOMA, but it had to stop short of supporting gay marriage, since candidate Obama was only in favor of civil unions. President Obama still says the issue should be left for the states to decide, as they've been doing. Gay marriage is legal in six states and will be voted on in three more states in November. North Carolina recently passed an amendment banning same-sex unions, which should make for an awkward convention in the state.

The move marks the first time a major party has come out in favor of same-sex marriage and is certainly significant step toward bringing gay rights into the mainstream. However, it's possible that like President Obama's announcement, this will be more of a symbolic victory. Democrats are hoping that once again, announcing their general support for gay marriage will give the party both a morale and a fund-raising boost. There's no word on whether the final version might include support for a federal law to allow gay marriage, but since President Obama has yet to come out in favor of such a measure, it seems unlikely.