Most of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgenderd delegates at the Democratic National Convention interviewed by Advocate.com on Monday say they will not protest John Kerry's anti-gay marriage stance for one simple reason: They are banding together under the party as never before in order to unseat George W. Bush. In fact, many do not even consider marriage to be a high-priority issue, regardless of the fact that Massachusetts is in its third month of being the only place in the United States where same-sex couples can be legally married. They, like most voters, care about the future of Iraq, the war on terrorism, the economy, jobs, and education.
As the convention officially got under way in Boston, GLBT delegates and alternates numbered more than 200--the largest such group in convention history.
Bonnie Winokar, a 60-year-old retired teacher from Maynard, Mass., is one of the oldest members of the GLBT delegation. She and her partner of 17 years, Mary McCarthy, 65, were a high-profile couple during this year's legislative battles over same-sex marriage in the Massachusetts statehouse, attending every session of the constitutional convention at which a state constitutional amendment to ban gays from marrying was debated. And they plan to legally wed on Saturday, July 31, just after the convention wraps up. She is not angered by Kerry's anti-gay marriage stance: "We must take baby steps on an issue like this, or we will lose everything." Winokar pointed to the fact that Kerry voted against the antigay federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 as proof that he supports gay men and lesbians. "He's a hell of a lot better than Bush," she said.
Political conventions stopped being smoke-filled, back-room horse-trading events where nominees were picked and panned nearly 40 years ago. Today, they are carefully orchestrated odes to the party's ticket. This is Kerry's chance to introduce himself and his running mate to the portion of Americans who have not made up their minds about his candidacy. Look for him and other speakers to position themselves as very middle-of-the-road to appeal to swing voters. That is especially true in the wake of the heat that the Kerry campaign felt after a fund-raising event in New York last month during which several entertainers bashed George W. Bush with crass jokes.
Still, the convention's diverse voices are stunning. Of the 236 members of the GLBT delegation, 29% are people of color, and 44% are women. While 236 may not seem like a large number given that the number of delegates and alternates overall comes close to 5,000, consider that the number of Native American delegates is 103, and the number of Asian-Pacific Islander American delegates comes in at 211. "There are a record number of diverse delegates at this convention, including the largest GLBT delegation in the history of the Democratic Party," said Allison Dobson, a spokeswoman for the Kerry-Edwards campaign. "We are proud that John Kerry and John Edwards have galvanized and excited this community and look forward to working with all Americans in this campaign as we make America stronger and more respected in the world."
John Hoadley and Allison Waithe, both 20, say they don't hold Kerry's opposition to equal marriage rights against him, although they say it's an extremely important issue for college-age voters. That age group is the most likely to support full equality for gay men and lesbians. "We see activists throwing up their hands and saying, 'We can't support this ticket because they don't support marriage,'" said Hoadley, a South Dakota native who is a junior at Michigan State University. "But that's exactly what the Republicans want them to do. Plus, we know that we can work to change the Democrats' minds in the future, especially compared to George W. Bush, who is attacking our families. Is either party there yet? No. Can the Democrats get there? Yes."
Barbra Casbar, a 61-year-old transgendered delegate from Edison, N.J., whose wife of 35 years passed away in 2001, feels the same way. While Casbar acknowledges that Kerry could be bolder on the issue of equal marriage rights, she understands his need to be a little more conservative than she would like. "Society moves very slowly," said Casbar.