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The devil’s advocate argument for a Democratic convention in Charlotte

Amendment One

By Jacob Combs

In his thoughtful piece from this morning, Adam laid out a cogent analysis of what happened in North Carolina on Tuesday and made the important argument that our work there as a community was both effective and significant.  I think Adam has done a great job of reflecting on Amendment One, and rather than rehashing his arguments here (which I happen to agree with), I thought I would look a related issue that has been making its way through the blogosphere lately: the Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Writing yesterday in National Journal, George Condon, Jr., points out that Charlotte and the Democratic Party are not the most usual of bedfellows.  There are many reasons for this, all of them worth paying attention to: an unpopular Democratic governor retiring after her first term, a sexual harassment scandal that forced North Carolina Democratic Party executive director Jay Parmley to resign his position, the inelegant fact that Barack Obama will accept the party’s nomination at the Bank of America stadium.  Add to that the fact that the convention is apparently well short of its fundraising goal, and Charlotte begins to look like a pretty unfortunate location for this year’s convention.

And then there’s Amendment One.  Marriage equality has been making huge headlines this week, first with the passage of the anti-gay constitutional amendment in North Carolina, and then with President Obama’s endorsement of full marriage equality for gays and lesbians.  Not surprisingly, there are many who feel that a state which just stripped gay and lesbian couples (and straight couples, for that matter) of rights that they already enjoyed is not the right place for a convention to be held by a party whose leader now supports marriage equality and whose platform very well might be amended to say the same this September.  A petition started just after Tuesday’s vote to move the convention out of the state already has more that 29,000 signatures out of a goal of 30,000.

These are valid concerns, and I don’t mean to minimize them in any way.  But I do want to pick up on an element of Adam’s argument and take it further to apply to the convention.  It may be a devil’s advocate argument, but I believe that Amendment One’s passage makes it even more important, not less, for the Democratic Party to hold its convention in Charlotte this September.

Although it certainly won’t happen now, the pundits were probably right when they predicted a marriage equality showdown at the Democratic convention this fall.  We now know that Obama planned to endorse full marriage rights at some point before the convention, but even before we knew that, it seemed clear the issue was going to come up.  Obama (we thought) faced an unenviable choice: muscle the party into endorsing his evolutionary views on marriage, or cave in and support the majority position, essentially leading from behind.  Before, it seemed abundantly clear that the Democratic National Convention in 2016 would include a marriage equality plank, but it seemed much less likely that the 2012 plank would do the same.  (Now, after Obama’s announcement, it seems nearly impossible that it would not contain such language.)

But let’s do a little thought experiment and see what the marriage landscape might look like by 2016.  Almost certainly, the Prop 8 case will have been completed, seeing a likely return of marriage equality to California and a powerful Supreme Court decision repudiating the taking away of equal rights by referendum, at least in California specifically.  DOMA would probably be history.  Ballot wins in either 2012 or 2014 would probably have brought marriage to Maine, Washington and maybe Maryland.  Rhode Island would most likely (finally) have marriage, along with other states, like Oregon or New Jersey.  In essence, full marriage equality would look even more inevitable then than it does today.

That’s why it’s a big deal for the Democratic party to be ahead on this issue, and that’s where North Carolina, and Amendment One, play an important role.  All the polling clearly demonstrates that public opinion continues to move towards acceptance for marriage equality.  Nonetheless, while supporters now outnumber opponents, the margin remains very thin.

Obama’s position on this issue fits into his campaign narrative of a forward-looking candidate.  Marriage equality is clearly part of America’s future, and a Democratic party platform endorsing marriage will put the party in the position of pursuing equality and engaging with a civil rights when it is still somewhat controversial.  Thirty years from now, we’ll look back at the Democrats’ position and think it was the obvious one to take, and we will also look back at Republicans in shock that any party could so fervently advocate for discrimination.  But today, the choice to firmly support marriage equality, (which all of the Democratic Party’s leadership now does) is a risky one.

Adam was right when he told the Huffington Post that “the movement can’t afford to give up on gay couples who don’t have the relatively good fortune to live in Minnesota or Maine.”  The petition seeking to move the Democratic convention away from Charlotte calls for holding it instead in a state that “upholds values of equality & liberty, and which treats ALL citizens equally.”  Unfortunately, that would mean holding the convention either in Washington, D.C., the Northeast or Iowa.  With the exception of Iowa, perhaps, these are all states which need visibility for marriage equality the least–to put simply, states where the fight has already been.

Of course, I would have loved for the Democratic Party to be able to add marriage equality to its platform in the first state in 2012 to reject an anti-gay constitutional amendment.  But Amendment One’s passage makes North Carolina an even more powerful place for one of the parties to advocate for equal rights in its official platform.  As our movement continues to expand its successes in reliably Democratic states, the battle is going to inevitably shift to more purple states where the climate may be less friendly and, indeed, where we might face some losses.  But it is these states where we should make marriage equality as visible as possible.  It is in these states where we can show that equal rights for all shouldn’t be a blue state issue.  It should be an all state issue.

It was incredibly moving for me personally to watch my President come out for marriage equality just one day after our defeat in a state where I campaigned and where, frankly, I expected the margin of defeat to be much closer.  For the same reasons, it will be just as exciting to see the Democratic Party take that same step in the very state where we worked so hard and lost–this time.


  • 1. Faceless Bureaucrat  |  May 11, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I love the work P8TT does and I respect your opinions.
    In this instance, however, I think you have made a strong case for a party platform plank but a weak case that the convention should be in NC (in "Bank of America Stadium", no less — the optics of that in a depression are not pretty).
    Conventions put money in the pockets of hotel and restaurant workers and stimulate the local economy. Why should pro-equality Democrats from all over the U.S. put their money into the wallets of NC voters after Amendment 1?
    Just askin'.

  • 2. Adam Bink  |  May 11, 2012 at 10:21 am

    It seem to me the middle way is not to punish the people and businesses who worked against Amendment 1, but rather, to reward them and punish those who worked for it. I for one would like to see a convention guide and stickers in windows "this business worked against Amendment 1. Thanks for your pro-equality business."

    Rather than a nationwide post-Prop 8 boycott of California, many activists chose to boycott the Manchester Hyatt to great effect.

    Same thing here.

  • 3. Faceless Bureaucrat  |  May 11, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Excellent point.
    OK, how do we get the national D party to coordinate with local businesses and very prominently get such window signs posted, so convention-goers can patronize those businesses?
    I think making this an economic boycott/reward thing could really raise the visibility.

  • 4. AnonyGrl  |  May 11, 2012 at 11:09 am

    YES! I love this idea. And it is not difficult to implement on the ground…

  • 5. Steve  |  May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Perhaps it is worth noting that voters in Mecklenburg county, where the convention will be held, voted against amendment 1 (by 54% to 46%), one of eight NC counties to do so. This convention could be framed as supporting a community that is leading the state into the future.

  • 6. AnonyGrl  |  May 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    LOVE that idea!

  • 7. Seth from Maryland  |  May 11, 2012 at 11:27 am

    really good international news,conservative New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has come out in support of marriage equality after President Obama came out in support of marriage equality, also the the leader of the opposition Labour Party in New Zealand supports , a marriage equality is now likely to pass soon in New Zealand,

  • 8. bayareajohn  |  May 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    I think that to have the convention in NC will communicate the fact that what the Dems SAY they believe isn't important enough to back up with action.

    Remember the pre-Amendment 1 vote campaign where it was predicted that NC would lose business and jobs over this? Are we ready to say "Never mind, that was just scare stuff we told you, we wouldn't really do that.."? Talk the talk, but no walking, please…

  • 9. Mark  |  May 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    NC cannot have it both ways. I agree pulling the convention would hurt individuals and businesses, but unfortunately there are more gay friendly locations that can also use the income at this point. My opinion is there is no better time than to show that certain actions cause certain reactions. This is a major event, and NC is not worthy to host the convention.

  • 10. weshlovrcm  |  May 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    We have to remember that the voter turnout in NC was about 34% of eligible voters. That means just 61% of 34% voted to enshrine sinful homophobia into their Constitution. Now if evil anti-gay activists want to celebrate getting 61% of 34% of the voters to agree with them, that is up to them. But we should never abandon our brothers and sisters when such a small percentage of people voted against them.

  • 11. greg  |  May 12, 2012 at 6:28 am

    The haters will be out hating with signs and everything. Good to see them tell American who and what they are. They make a great negative example of what not to be, unless they can clock themselves in a righteous robe of sacred marriage. That's the way the haters *try* to win the normal people who have consciences and compassion. Those same conscience and compassion, if prompted, can see the universal truth of freedom to love your partner.

  • 12. MJFargo  |  May 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    The cover of this week's New Yorker magazine…wow!

  • 13. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Posted by The New Yorker

    “I am honored to be doing this cover. It’s a celebratory moment for our country, and that’s what I tried to capture. (I don’t especially like those rainbow colors, but they are what they are—I had to use them.) I wanted to celebrate the bravery of the President’s statement—a statement long overdue—but all the more appreciated in this political year. We are on the right side of history.” —Bob Staake, the artist who created “Spectrum of Light,” the cover of next week’s issue.

  • 14. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    why does he not like those colors???? I'm glad he confesses that "he had to use them" "Spectrum of Light" the rainbow ,,, rainbow flag,,, is the symbol of the rainbow tribe,,,, it is our symbol,,,,,,

  • 15. Fluffyskunk  |  May 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    I'm not a member of any kind of "rainbow tribe" (blecch). I'm just a person.

    I don't need a symbol, thank you very much.

  • 16. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    see the struggle some countries go through to fly the rainbow flag

  • 17. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm

  • 18. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 7:51 pm

  • 19. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm

  • 20. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    sorry for the triple post,,,,,,,

    I was really trying to post the last one which is the HISTORY of the rainbow flag as a symbol of LGBT people

  • 21. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 9:58 pm

  • 22. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 10:15 pm

  • 23. Bob  |  May 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm

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