Gay politicians, countless shout-outs to the LGBT community, rainbow flags waving: This week's Democratic National Convention might as well have been a Pride parade. And in some ways it was: More than any other national political gathering in American history, the 2012 DNC was a celebration of LGBT equality in America and within a party that has come to view the issue as a political winner.
More than a dozen speakers touted President Obama's record on LGBT rights over the three days of the convention, beginning with U.S. Rep Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who was awarded a primetime speaking slot on Tuesday. Polis, who is slated to become the most senior openly gay member of the House of Representatives next year, wasn't shy about declaring his sexual orientation upon taking the stage, mentioning his partner, Marlon Reis, by name and calling Americans to respect the diversity of views on same-sex marriage and other hot-button social issues. "Tonight, I don't just ask my fellow Americans to respect my relationship with my partner Marlon and my role as a father to our son," Polis said. "I also ask them to respect the Christian family concerned about decaying moral values and crass commercialism. I ask them to respect the difficult decision of a single mother to bring a child into this world, because of her heartfelt beliefs."
Polis was joined by many other speakers on Tuesday evening who praised the Obama administration's record on LGBT-rights issues. They include San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine, and openly gay DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias, who said the administration has "dramatically improved" the lives of millions of LGBT Americans "at no cost" to anyone. Praise for Obama's repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" came from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, platform committee co-chair and retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, U.S. House candidate Tammy Duckworth, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, and former White House official Kal Penn. While delivering the DNC platform speech, Newark Mayor Cory Booker declared, "It is our most fundamental national aspiration that no matter who you are, no matter what your color, creed, how you choose to pray, or who you choose to love, that if you are an American, first-generation or fifth, one who is willing to work hard, play by the rules, and apply your God-given talents, that you should be able to find a job that pays the bills."
Most notably, LGBT equality was twice mentioned in Michelle Obama's widely lauded speech on Tuesday night, in which she praised her husband for wanting "everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like, or who we love." Michelle Obama also mentioned marriage equality as an important thread in the American fabric, concluding that "if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American dream," to a roar of applause.
The Democratic Party's celebration of LGBT Americans ramped up into the convention's final night, whose theme was "Americans Coming Together" and which featured videos devoted to the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and support for same-sex marriage. The evening featured prime speaking spots for Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the first openly gay member of Congress, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who is attempting to become the first openly gay senator in the country. Zach Wahls, the 21-year-old Iowan who rose to Internet stardom with a moving speech defending his two mothers before the Iowa legislature, delivered another impassioned address in which he railed against Mitt Romney for his opposition to same-sex marriage and told the Republican presidential nominee, "My family is just as real as yours."
"President Obama put his political future on the line to do what was right," Wahls concluded, to a standing ovation. "President Obama is fighting for our families -- all of our families. He has our backs. We have his."
And indeed, later that night, when President Obama officially accepted the Democratic nomination for president, he made it clear that he had the backs of LGBT Americans, twice mentioning the community in his acceptance speech. "We don't think that government is the source of all our problems any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we're told to blame for our troubles," Obama asserted. "If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference," he warned Americans, "then other voices will fill the void... Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health-care choices that women should make for themselves."
The prominence of the LGBT community and its fight for full equality in this year's Democratic National Convention is a striking contrast to last week's Republican National Convention, which ratified a platform disavowing same-sex marriage. But perhaps more strikingly, it represents a dramatic turnaround for the Democratic party itself, which just four years ago remained timid on LGBT issues and nominated a candidate who did not openly support marriage equality. Former Democratic President Bill Clinton, who delivered a speech Wednesday night that had the entire convention hall cheering on their feet, and who is now a staunch supporter of LGBT rights, is the same man who signed the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
Beyond the endorsement by nearly 6,000 delegates of a platform that calls for legal recognition of same-sex marriage and rejects employment discrimination against LGBT Americans, the DNC was a visible manifestation of just how far the country has come during the Obama presidency. In 2008 marriage equality was still a toxic issue that the nation's first African-American president refused to associate himself with. In 2012 LGBT equality proved to be a true crowd pleaser, generating applause every time a speaker used the words "LGBT" or "gay," and energizing a base that has come to fully embrace gay rights. Should President Obama win reelection, it is all but certain that the LGBT community will achieve full legal equality by the time the next convention rolls around.
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