|by Chris Crain|
|Hammering Out the Party Platforms
There's been no such thing as the summer doldrums this election season, what with fevered speculation over running mates and overseas trips with dueling photo ops set up to appear more "presidential."
Far more consequential, if much less made-for-TV, are the bare knuckles battles that lie ahead over the platforms to be adopted by the Republicans and Democrats, setting forth not just principles but the down and dirty policy positions of each party.
In past presidential election years, many of the platform planks were already decided on by mid-July, usually in proverbial backrooms with only longtime insiders participating.
The process is indeed underway this year, but both parties are making at least perfunctory attempts to seek input from average voters. Color me skeptical, since the platforms are ultimately voted on by the convention delegates, so Barack Obama and John McCain already control the outcome before the process even begins.
Even so, now is the time when the two campaigns are gauging the public's temperature on the hot-button issues that tend to be the focus of platform fights. Of course, gay rights will be right up there with abortion, immigration and Iraq when it comes to slicing up language to appeal to the many who will vote in November, while avoiding offense to the few whose dollars and grassroots muscle can make the difference on Election Day.
Four years ago, both party platforms were a big gay disappointment. The Republicans' were something of an expected disaster. With Karl Rove in charge and social conservatives one of the few constituencies that President Bush could count on, the anti-gay planks practically wrote themselves.
GOP delegates rejected efforts by Log Cabin Republicans to oppose gay marriage without specifically endorsing the federal amendment backed by the president. In fact, the platform went further, decrying legal recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships as "living arrangements"why didn't they just say "living in sin"?that shouldn't be treated like marriage.
It will be interesting to see how the Republican platform tackles marriage this time around, since John McCain said on the Senate floor that the federal marriage amendment was "antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans." The marriage plank will likely focus instead on leaving the issue to the states decide, which mean the real battle will be over whether the platform hints or insists on the answer that states should reach.
A defeat for Log Cabin would be a marriage plank that backs state amendments like the one pending in Californiaor even more draconian amendments like the one McCain endorsed but which failed in Arizona two years ago. A victory would be one that leaves the question more open to the states, while including the familiar battle cry against "unelected judges" having any say at all.
Marriage will be a testing ground for Democrats as well. Four years ago, the party platform read like a good GOP plank would this year: "repudiating" Bush's marriage amendment and saying the states should decide. But the platform was silent on civil unions as an alternative, much less advocating the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Acteven though John Kerry, the nominee, had voted against it back in 1996.
Barack Obama made a point of distinguishing himself from Hillary Clinton by favoring DOMA's full repeal, so the platform should make that explicit. Much more important, however, would be a plank that specifically lays out what the Democratic nominee has said repeatedly about gay relationshipswhether recognized by the states through marriage, civil unions or not at allbeing afforded fully equal treatment to heterosexual marriage under federal law.
For this gay American, stuck living in exile because of unequal immigration rights, the plank would include specific support for the Uniting American Families Act, which allows us to sponsor our partners for residence the same way heterosexuals do in the U.S.and as both gay and straight citizens can in Canada, Australia, Brazil and almost all of Western Europe.
Trans activists will also be pressing hard for including their agenda in the Democratic platform, since they were turned away by the Kerry camp four years ago. This time, with lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin on the platform committee, they're likely to get a much more welcome reception.
Even so, any trans rights plank should avoid taking sides in the bitter fight last fall over whether gay measures like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act should only be adopted if the votes are there for "gender identity" as well.If you want your say on these and other platform questions, visit barackobama.com and GOPplatform 2008.com, and follow the links for voter input.
Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade and five other gay publications and now edits GayNewsWatch.com. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 10 July 25, 2008