WASHINGTON -- With the Democratic Party poised to back same-sex marriage in its 2012 platform for the first time in history, Democratic lawmakers, particularly moderates, are under more pressure than ever to articulate their views on an issue they may not support or be comfortable talking about.
Never fear, says centrist-Democrat group Third Way, which unveiled a new primer on Wednesday to help moderates talk about why they support gay marriage -- or why they still oppose it.
For those ready to publicly embrace the issue, Third Way provides six talking points: emphasize that marriage is about a lifetime commitment; don't focus on words like "rights" and "benefits"; mention some of the "protections" denied to families by the Defense of Marriage Act; avoid using terms like "gay marriage" and instead say "marriage equality," to reflect marriage is marriage; tell the story of your personal journey on the issue; and talk about religious liberty protections that remain in place.
As for those opposed to marriage equality, Third Ways urges them to make it clear that the issue should be left up to the states.
"Many who don't personally support marriage for gay couples don't believe the federal government should be discarding its age-old rule that counsels respect for each state's determination of who may marry and who may not in their own jurisdiction," reads the Third Way memo. "If a state wants to allow gay couples to marry, the federal government should not reject that state's decision and refuse to recognize those marriages."
Skeptical Democrats are also encouraged to talk about the importance of protections "for committed, loving couples"; leave himself or herself room to grow on the issue; support religious liberty protections; show respect for those who disagree with you; and face the reality that the next generation may feel differently than you.
Lanae Erickson, Director of Social Policy & Politics at Third Way, said the days of Democrats being able to stay silent on same-sex marriage are over.
"In the past, some Democrats have managed to avoid the marriage issue. But with the upcoming convention vote on the platform, it will be front and center," Erickson told The Huffington Post. "Democratic politicians could take this opportunity to voice their support for allowing gay couples to marry for the first time, and middle America will be listening."
Even the way that Democrats "who aren't yet there on marriage" talk about the issue could affect future decisions on marriage equality, Erickson said, including state ballot initiatives and, ultimately, Supreme Court decisions.