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Democrats: Say I Do

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"For all my years in public life, I have believed that America must sail toward the shores of liberty and justice for all. There is no end to that journey, only the next great voyage."

Those were the words of the late Senator Ted Kennedy in one of his last addresses, when accepting an honorary degree at Harvard University in December 2008. For his whole life, Ted Kennedy was a lion of the Democratic Party and, soon after his state of Massachusetts ended the denial of marriage for gay couples, became an active fighter to protect that freedom.

The Democratic Party has a noble history of fighting for the human and civil rights of all Americans. Living up to that legacy, Democratic lawmakers have provided the vast majority of the support for the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples in states and in Congress, even as ending exclusion from marriage increasingly is becoming a bipartisan cause.

It is now time that the national Democratic Party formally recognize the freedom to marry as a core value by including it in its party platform to be ratified in September at the Democratic National Convention.

Democratic governors throughout the country understand. They are leading the way for the freedom to marry in their states. Andrew Cuomo made marriage a top legislative priority and led a bipartisan effort to ensure all loving and committed New York couples can share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage. Deval Patrick has championed that freedom in Massachusetts since his first day in office. In Washington, Maryland, and New Hampshire, Democratic governors spoke up strongly about the freedom to marry in their respective State of the State addresses this year. They recognize it is the right thing to do.

And it is not just governors. More than 135 Democratic mayors, from Kansas City to San Antonio, Juneau to Denver, Los Angeles to Boston, and Cincinnati to Tallahassee have joined Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

These leaders reflect where the electorate is. According to a May 2011 Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans, including 69 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Independents, and 70 percent of voters between the ages of 18 to 34, support the freedom to marry. For Democrats, support is no longer a risky proposition; instead, it's becoming increasingly difficult politically to justify not supporting marriage for gay couples.

Political professionals get it. According to the National Journal Political Insiders Poll (July 2011), 84 percent of Democratic operatives say their party should embrace marriage, compared to 59 percent just two years ago. In the words of one political consultant who responded to the poll: "It's going to happen. We might as well start to lead."

Seven years ago, I worked closely with Democratic Party leaders in Massachusetts to get a marriage plank included in the state party platform in support of that state's status as the first freedom-to-marry state in the country. Since then, a number of others -- both those with the freedom to marry, like Iowa and New York, and those that have not yet enacted marriage laws, like New Mexico, Washington, and Wyoming -- have followed suit.

It's now time for the national Democrats to come on board.

Between now and the September convention, Freedom to Marry will be organizing to make it happen. We'll be enlisting Democratic elected officials, Party leaders, operatives, activists, and voters to get behind a freedom to marry plank and help us make the case to the Platform Drafting Committee. While the committee process is still to be announced, Freedom to Marry will do what we know works best. We will share our stories -- those of same-sex couples, both married and those unable to marry, along with those of parents, children, friends, and allies -- in whatever public hearing and mechanisms the Party unveils. And we've created an online petition that all Americans can sign that Freedom to Marry will formally present to the Party Platform Committee over the summer.

Read Freedom to Marry's proposed plank for the 2012 Democratic Party Platform and sign the petition here. Help fulfill Senator Kennedy's dream of getting America closer to the shores of liberty and justice for all.