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Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC Chair, Backs Marriage Equality In Party Platform

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DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is publicly backing the push to include marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.
DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is publicly backing the push to include marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of President Barack Obama's announcement that he personally backs marriage equality, a group of California Democratic lawmakers are restarting the push to include support for same-sex marriage in the official party platform. And it's an effort that Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) also backs.

"I met with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz last evening, and she supports the inclusion of marriage equality in the party platform," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told The Huffington Post on Thursday morning. "I'm hopeful and increasingly confident, as is Debbie, that we can make it happen."

When asked for comment, Schultz confirmed the sentiment. "Yes, I think that we will have a plank in the platform that reflects the president's position on marriage equality," she said. "I support marriage equality as a part of the platform."

Schiff also announced that 27 members of the California Democratic congressional delegation have now signed on to Freedom to Marry's letter urging the Democratic Party Platform Drafting Committee to adopt the position.

The chair's support does not ensure that marriage equality will be in the platform, since the ultimate decision is up to a committee. But it adds a strong push to the effort.

"Over the past few months, the LGBT community has seen a groundswell of support for marriage equality, largely stemming from President Obama's announcement,” Schiff said. "Marriage equality would extend one of our most basic rights of citizenship to all Americans -- the right to marry the person you love. Everyone should enjoy all the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship without discrimination. By making our belief in freedom and equality for all, including those in the LGBT community, part of the Democratic party platform, we can make marriage equality one step closer to becoming the law of the land."

When asked the president also wishes to make support for marriage equality the official party position, Obama campaign spokeswoman Clo Ewing said, "The President's personal views on marriage equality are known. The President and the Party are committed to crafting a platform that reflects the President’s positions and the values of the Party."

Joining Schiff in signing Freedom to Marry's letter are California Reps. Lois Capps, Zoe Lofgren, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Thompson, Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, Susan Davis, Janice Hahn, Judy Chu, Grace Napolitano, Howard Berman, George Miller, Linda Sanchez, Loretta Sanchez, Xavier Becerra, Henry Waxman, Sam Farr, Pete Stark, Mike Honda, Doris Matsui, Jerry McNerney, Brad Sherman, Karen Bass, Maxine Waters and Joe Baca. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer had previously signed the letter.

The Democratic members of Congress from California who did not sign on are Reps. Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, Bob Filner, John Garamendi, Barbara Lee and Laura Richardson. Lee is a member of the platform committee and has been named "the most pro-LGBT member of Congress" by ThinkProgress for the high number of pro-LGBT pieces of legislation she has cosponsored.

When asked for comment, Lee's chief of staff, Julie Nickson, responded, "As her record shows, the Congresswoman is a strongly committed to marriage equality, but since she is actually a member of the platform drafting committee, she is not signing on letters to herself/the committee. She will have the opportunity to weigh in directly on issues."

Filner's spokeswoman, Lena Lewis, said the congressman will "absolutely" sign the letter, and a copy is being sent to his office today. "He never saw the letter," she said.

Following the president's announcement that he had completed his "evolution" and backed the right of individuals of the same sex to marry, that stance has become -- even more than it was before -- the Democratic Party's de facto position.

But it remains an open question whether the platform committee will make it the official position. While five members of the 15-person committee (both voting and nonvoting members) told the Washington Blade that they back the inclusion of marriage equality, most have remained silent.

Freedom to Marry's founder and executive director, Evan Wolfson, said that since Obama came out and publicly backed marriage equality, he has seen an uptick in the number of Democrats speaking out. "Having the president on board obviously makes it easier for others who were supportive to really step up and begin going on record and closing the deal," he said. "We're working closely with them and we're very hopeful we will see the freedom to marry in the platform."

"The president's speech certainly helps pave the way to making this a part of the platform," Schiff added. "And it gives me great optimism we can make this happen."

"This is something I think the California delegation has a real leadership role to play," he said. "Much of the rest of the country, particularly in the Democratic Party, looks to what we do in California."

The first meeting of the platform committee will be during the weekend of July 27 in Minneapolis.

If the pro-marriage equality language being pushed by Freedom to Marry is adopted, the party's platform would embrace marriage equality for the first time. In 2008, the platform stated, "We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us," but it did not explicitly call for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

In 2004, the party's platform condemned Republican attempts to pass a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage but also said the decision should be left to the states: "In our country, marriage has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush's divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a 'Federal Marriage Amendment.' Our goal is to bring Americans together, not drive them apart."

The Democratic platform will be ratified at the party's national convention, which begins Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.

This story has been updated to include comments from Freedom to Marry's executive director, Evan Wolfson, and spokespeople for Reps. Barbara Lee and Bob Filner.

CORRECTION: A previous version misidentified DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz as a congresswoman from California. She represents Florida.

Jen Bendery, Erin Mershon and Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.

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