FERNDALE, Mich. -- Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Tuesday joined Democratic candidates in Michigan's biggest political races in condemning homophobic remarks made recently by a Republican Party official in the state, and a culture of intolerance that they said plagues the GOP.
"The only place where intolerance against the community is welcome is in the Republican Party," Wasserman-Schultz told an audience of 100 people gathered at Affirmations, an LBGTQ community center located in downtown Ferndale, which borders Detroit, Tuesday night. "Intolerance is in the Republican Party's DNA."
Democratic U.S. Reps. Sander Levin and Gary Peters were among those who turned out to protest the homophobic comments made by Dave Agema, a Republican National Committee official in Michigan, earlier this month.
Agema, a former American Airlines pilot, told the audience of a Republican Party holiday reception that he had repeatedly witnessed gay colleagues claiming AIDS victims as lovers so that they could receive medical benefits, and that gays wanted "free medical because they're dying between 38 and 44 years old."
Prominent Michigan Republicans including Gov. Rick Snyder and state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), have also spoken out against Agema's remarks, though they stopped short of calling for his resignation.
Some observers thought Agema's conduct would be addressed or even censured at the RNC's quarterly meeting in Lansing on Saturday. Instead, his comments were never brought up -- and Agema received a standing ovation from some attendees, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Wasserman Schultz said the Democratic National Committee is focusing on Michigan, with three U.S. House and Senate seats marked as "competitive," along with the governor's seat. "While the Republican Party eats its young," she joked, "we're focused on organizing and mobilizing."
Gay-rights activists have plenty of work they'd like to do in the state. In 2011, Snyder signed a ban on public employers offering benefits to domestic partners. The state has gone to court to try and prevent gay couples from adopting children together, and it continues to uphold a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage passed 10 years ago.
While Snyder recently said that he is open to amending Michigan's anti-discrimination laws to include protections for gays, he has also declared that he won't "lead" on the issue.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, a Democrat running for governor of Michigan -- likely against Snyder -- promised that amending anti-discrimination legislation would be one of his first priorities if elected.
"I will lead," Schauer told the audience at Tuesday's event. He said Michigan needs to be known as a state where diversity of all kinds is welcomed and accepted. "We are Michigan. Our values in this room are Michigan values," he said.
Peters, who is running for U.S. Senate against Terri Lynn Land, a former Michigan secretary of state and Agema's fellow RNC member, told the crowd that he was for marriage equality "before it was cool."
He attacked Land for not joining the condemnation of Agema's remarks. "If you are a member of the Republican National Committee, you speak for the Republican Party, and you need to stand up and say you aren’t going to tolerate those statements," Peters said. "If a Republican doesn't do that, they need to be held responsible."
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Voters in Maryland <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">approved marriage equality in the November 2012 election</a>. Initially, the gay marriage bill was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on March 1, 2012, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force the issue back onto the ballot. With the passing of marriage equality, same-sex marriage <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/maryland-gay-marriage_n_2389044.html" target="_blank">ceremonies began on Jan. 1, 2013</a>.
Connecticut's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/10/connecticut-gay-marriage_n_133605.html" target="_blank">ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry on Nov. 12, 2008</a>, making it the third state in the nation to do achieve marriage equality.
Iowa's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/03/iowa-gay-marriage-ban-rul_n_182782.html" target="_blank">ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional</a> on April 3, 2009.
Maine <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">made history in the November 2012 election</a> when it became the first state to pass marriage equality on the ballot. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said, "Voters in Maine came to the common-sense conclusion that all people deserve the ability to make loving, lifelong commitments through marriage." Just three years ago, a popular vote overturned legislation that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-legal-same-sex-marriage-performed-in-massachusetts" target="_blank"> legalize same-sex marriage on May 17, 2004</a>. The state's Supreme Court initially found the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional on Nov. 18, 2003.
Same-sex couples were able to <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-6042937.html" target="_blank">begin seeking marriage licenses</a> on Jan. 1, 2010.
Vermont, which invented civil unions, became <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/07/vermont-legalizes-gay-mar_n_184034.html" target="_blank">the first state to legalize gay marriage through a legislature's vote</a> -- overriding the governor's veto. Same-sex couples were able to begin marrying on Sept, 1, 2009.
Gay couples were able to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/01/gay-marriage-dc-council-p_n_375435.html" target="_blank">begin marrying in the nation's capital</a> on March 9, 2010.
The state initially began conducting gay marriages on June 16, 2008. On November 5, 2008, however, California <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/proposition-8-timeline_n_3503512.html" target="_blank">voters passed Proposition 8</a>, which amended the state's constitution to declare marriage as only between a man and a woman. On June 26, 2013, by a 5-4 vote, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/hollingsworth-v-perry-ruling_n_3438269.html" target="_blank">the Supreme Court justices held in Hollingsworth v. Perry</a> that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial, opening the door for marriages to resume in the state.
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Gay marriage came to Rhode Island when Governor Lincoln Chafee <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/gay-marriage-minnesota-rhode-island_n_3686034.html" target="_blank">signed the marriage equality bill</a> into law on May 2, 2013.
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Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed same-sex marriage into law on Nov. 13, 2013, making it the 15th state to pass such legislation.
Illinois became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage, with the House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/illinois-gay-marriage_n_4220793.html" target="_blank">having passed the bill on Nov. 5</a>. and Gov. Pat Quinn signing the legislation on Nov. 20.
On Dec. 19, the New Mexico Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/19/new-mexico-gay-marriage_n_4474507.html?ir=Gay%20Voices" target="_blank">unanimously ruled</a> that same-sex marriage rights are protected under the Constitution.