Democrats have had a strange election cycle regarding same-sex rights. The party went from shying away from the same-sex marriage issue in 2010 to President Barack Obama embracing same-sex marriage rights in June and the official Democratic platform embracing same-sex rights last week.
More telling, Democrats are not hiding their support at all. They are flaunting it.
During the Republican convention two weeks ago, Obama released a graph on Facebook criticizing the official Republican platform for two points of opposition: abortion rights and same-sex marriage rights. Last week, Obama released a graph supporting the Democratic platform, and same-sex marriage rights was one of the five points highlighted.
It’s a sharp contrast to a president who just one year ago said he was “evolving” on the same-sex marriage issue. The vague comment received criticism from same-sex rights advocates. It’s an even sharper contrast in a bigger timeline. Former President Bill Clinton was the Democrat who enacted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993. The policy was a gain for gay military personnel who couldn’t serve before, but it was still seen as oppressive by same-sex rights advocates. Obama is the fellow Democrat who repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010.
The same-sex rights issue has a local angle as well. In 2011, Cincinnati elected its first openly gay city councilman — Chris Seelbach. Earlier this year, City Council passed domestic partner benefits to city employees. Across the state, six cities have enacted domestic partner registries, which let same-sex couples register and notarize their relationships. Not as good as civil unions and marriage, but baby steps.
Now, Democrats are rallying around an amendment that would bring same-sex marriage to Ohio.
The Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom amendment, which is expected to be on the 2013 ballot, was endorsed in the Democratic Party platform. In a statement, Ben Deutschle, president of the Freedom to Marry executive committee, praised Democrats for finally adopting support for “the basic, inherent right for all loving couples to marry, regardless of gender.”
But why the turn? What has made Democrats go from rarely supporting same-sex marriage a decade ago to “evolving” last year to full support this year?
The most obvious answer is a genuine belief in same-sex marriage rights. Objectively, granting same-sex marriage rights gives millions of couples a fundamental right without hurting anyone. It doesn’t matter what a person’s God says will happen in Heaven or Hell. Here on Earth, same-sex couples have been given rights without infringing on others’ rights or hurting anyone else. Countries like Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain have not imploded after legalizing same-sex marriage.
Another reason is the economic benefit of same-sex marriage. Dennis Willard, spokesperson for Freedom to Marry Ohio, told CityBeat same-sex marriage “just makes sense” from an economic perspective. A study conducted by Bill LaFayette, founder of Regionomics, LLC., found legalizing same-sex marriage in Ohio would raise the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), or economic worth, by $100-126 million, sustaining 740 to 930 jobs in the state. In Hamilton County, same-sex marriage would bring in $8.2 million. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attributed $259 million of economic benefits and $16 million in tax revenue to the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York.
Most benefits come from the boost to the marriage industry, but some also come from what has been dubbed “marriage tourism” — when same-sex couples travel to states that have legalized same-sex marriage to get married. LaFayette’s study did not account for marriage tourism, so embracing same-sex marriage could bring even more money into Ohio.
Perhaps the most cynical reason for same-sex marriage support is campaign fundraising. Obama’s re-election campaign reported $1 million within the first 90 minutes of announcing its support for same-sex marriage and $2 million within 24 hours. In a campaign season that broke records by having the pro-Obama super PAC raise $10 million in August, $2 million is a lot of money for one day.
Whatever the reason, supporting civil rights is no longer an issue to shy away from for the Democratic Party. Even First Lady Michelle Obama highlighted the shift in her speech at the Democratic National Convention when she praised “proud Americans” who “can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love.”