As the Democratic Party voiced unprecedented support for “gay marriage” last week in Charlotte, N.C., the tone of major political speeches and comments by a leading gay congressman suggested division both within the Democratic Party and within the gay movement.
“Gay marriage” was a major talking point surrounding the Democratic National Convention, due largely to the fact that the party’s 2012 platform supports a redefinition of marriage to include gay couples for the first time in history.
The convention featured a record-high 486 gay, lesbian or transgender delegates, amounting to eight percent of the total delegates.
But while many of the convention speeches contained scattered references to “gay marriage,” main speakers did not focus on the issue.
President Barack Obama, who in May became the first U.S. president to officially endorse “gay marriage,” largely avoided the topic in his acceptance speech on Sept. 6.
The president did not use the phrase “gay marriage” at all in his nearly 40-minute address, although he did make an indirect reference to “Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry.”
Furthermore, prominent gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) limited his convention address to economic issues, despite speculation that his speech would highlight same-sex interests.
The lack of focus on the issue by major political figures may have been due to the controversy over “gay marriage” that exists within the Democratic Party itself.
A national survey conducted over the summer by Pew Research Center found the party far from unified on the subject. Twenty-nine percent of Democrats said that they opposed a redefinition of marriage.
In addition, politicians in tight races – including U.S. Senate contenders Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Jon Tester, (D-Mont.) – have distanced themselves from Obama’s support of “gay marriage,” and numerous other legislators have been hesitant to comment on the subject.
However, more extreme statements were made at a smaller caucus of gay, lesbian and transgender delegates and supporters on the morning of Sept. 6, revealing contention within the gay movement itself.
Multiple speakers referred to a redefinition as “inevitable” and insisted that they would never be content with civil unions alone, but would use them as a step towards a full redefinition of marriage.
"There's no such thing as half-way to justice,” said Newark mayor Cory Booker.
Speakers at the caucus also criticized the official Republican platform, which affirmed the party’s support of marriage as the unique union of one man and one woman but called for all people to be “treated with respect and dignity” regardless of their sexual orientation.
Delaware governor Jack Markell called the GOP platform “incredible.”
“You really wonder what generation they're in,” he said.
Rep. Frank spoke very directly at the caucus, explaining that the Democratic Party and the gay advocacy party have become one and the same.
While promoting greater tolerance and acceptance for gay individuals, Frank criticized those within the gay movement whose political views differ from his own.
He slammed the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay advocates within the Republican Party.
“I'm beginning to think that they're called the Log Cabin club because their role mode is Uncle Tom,” he said, referencing the slave that is the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's widely-read novel.
The statements sparked controversy and elicited a scathing response from Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper, who called Frank a “partisan hack,” motivated by “political calculation and cowardice.”
Cooper said in a Sept. 6 statement that Frank’s claims are “simply ridiculous” and argued that the Log Cabin Republicans perform “work that liberals like Barney are unwilling to do and couldn’t do if they tried.”
“It has not been the Republican National Committee trying to silence Log Cabin,” Cooper added, “our voice is indeed welcome within our party.”
“Gay liberals like Barney, however, are trying to silence us, calling us names and ganging up like schoolyard bullies,” he said.