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Democrats Court Gay Voters in Convention Speeches

Democrats Court Gay Voters in Convention Speeches


From Michelle Obama to Julian Castro and everyone in between, nearly all of the primetime speakers in Charlotte had something to say about equality, and more often than not, marriage.

Social media giant Twitter reports that the first night of the Democratic National Convention has already generated more than 3 million tweets, compared to a total of 4 million tweets for the entire three days of the Republican National Convention last week. The extent of the online chatter includes a robust discussion of LGBT rights, which convention speakers made unprecedented efforts to incorporate into their remarks Tuesday during the first night of the three-night program in Charlotte, North Carolina.

First Lady Michelle Obama headlined the lineup with a speech that opened a window into her husband President Barack Obama's character, portraying him as a man firmly rooted in the "story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle" familiar to everyday Americans. She said their time in the White House had shown her that "being president doesn't change who you are - it reveals who you are," and reminded the audience that for her husband, this experience includes a commitment to marriage equality. The president announced his personal support in May, while the party approved a platform with an explicit reference to "marriage equality" on Tuesday.

"If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire...if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores...if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote...if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time...if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream...and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream," said Mrs. Obama.

Her speech reached 28,003 tweets per minute near its conclusion around 11 p.m., according to Twitter. That marked almost double the 14,289 tweets per minute generated by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during his acceptance speech in Tampa. While the company offered no reasons for the surge, it is notable that a Pew Research Center study found Twitter usage is highest among young adults age 18-24, a group that expresses the highest support for LGBT rights in polling, and a demographic that Democrats must energize, in addition to women, Latinos and gay voters.

First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to deliver remarks early Wednesday afternoon at a luncheon sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund to honor LGBT elected officials. She will appear fresh off her headliner status for a speakers' lineup full of references to LGBT rights, most often marriage equality, and somewhat less frequently, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

Tammy Duckworth, who is running for Congress in Illinois, shared her personal story as a wounded veteran and lauded President Obama for "listening to commanders as we ended 'don't ask, don't tell.'" Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts also mentioned the military policy reversal, saying, "This is the president who ended 'don't ask, don't tell' so that love of country, not love of another, determines fitness for military service."

Patrick's young adult daughter Katherine came out in 2008. His speech, a fiery endorsement of President Obama, used language that resonates with LGBT people in other ways, too, saying, "I will not stand by and let him be bullied out of office--and neither should you, and neither should you and neither should you."

"It's time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe," he said. That line, which brought the crowd to its feet, went off script, where according to the speech text, he was supposed to have said, "stiffen our backbone."

Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland followed Patrick with a lower-key speech that began by recognizing the role his state played in the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. Often mentioned as a contender for the 2016 presidential nomination, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association made no explicit references to marriage equality, despite the fact that voters in his state could be the first to approve such a law in a referendum this November. The governor focused on jobs, the education and healthcare, leading the crowd in a call and response about how President Obama is moving America "forward, not back!"

"In times of adversity--for the country we love--Maryland always chooses to move forward," he said. "Progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. Whether we move forward or back: this too is a choice. That is what this election is all about!"

Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio delivered the keynote speech before Michelle Obama. Unlike the First Lady, he identified the Republican opponent by name, leading the crowd in a chant of "Mitt Romney says no" to various policy proposals, including "when it comes to letting people love who they love and marry who they want to marry."

The Democratic National Convention night program continues Wednesday with highly anticipated speeches from former President Bill Clinton and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, among others.

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Julie Bolcer