Some 27 members of Congress from California, who form the majority of the state's Democratic congressional delegation, announced their support Thursday for the campaign to include marriage equality in the party's platform.
Congressman Adam Schiff of Pasadena coordinated the effort among Golden State colleagues to sign a letter from Freedom to Marry urging the Platform Drafting Committee to adopt a pro-marriage equality position as it prepares for the convention in Charlotte, N.C., this September. The letter, which has received nearly 43,000 signatures from the public, calls for the Democratic Party to support "the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibility, and protection under the law, including the freedom to marry." It asks the party to support the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, and to oppose constitutional amendments and other attempts to restrict the rights of same-sex couples.
In a telephone interview with The Advocate, Schiff said he believed the signatures represented the first concerted attempt by a state Democratic congressional delegation to push for marriage equality in the national party platform. He said that other members looked to California for leadership as the state with the largest Democratic delegation and "outsized influence," both progress and setbacks, on the issue.
"Given the struggles we've had over Prop, 8, we have a responsibility to be in the vanguard in this and try to encourage our colleagues to come out strongly in favor of marriage equality and make this part and parcel of what our party stands for," he said.
Schiff said he feels increasingly bullish about the prospects for changing the platform after a recent conversation with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the DNC chairwoman, who told him she supported the move.
"She is a supporter of marriage equality and I was very encouraged by her level of optimism and confidence that we can make this happen," he said. "I was really quite delighted."
California's two U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, have already signed the letter, along with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, which leaves six holdouts among the state's Democratic 34-member House delegation. Democratic House members who have not signed the letter are Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, Bob Filner, John Garamendi, Barbara Lee, and Laura Richardson.
Lee is a member of the Platform Drafting Committee, a 15-member body that was announced by the DNC earlier this month. ThinkProgress recently named her one of the 11 "most pro-gay" members of the House.
Julie Nickson, chief of staff for Lee, told The Advocate that because of her seat on the committee, Lee was "across the board" not signing any letters about including issues in the platform.
"She is not signing any letters despite her strong support and tremendous record on marriage equality," said Nickson. "This is a process issue."
Other members of the Platform Drafting Committee include Rep. Barney Frank, the gay congressman from Massachusetts who this month became the first member of Congress to marry a same-sex partner. A spokesman told the Washington Blade this week that Frank had no comment on the matter at this time, and the congressman has previously said that he believed support for the DOMA repeal should be a priority in the platform.
Schiff said he hoped the show of support from California would inspire members from other states with large Democratic delegations, like New York, to sign the letter. A total of six states have marriage equality, but the congressman welcomes boosters from everywhere.
"Now that we have such strong support from the California Democratic delegation, I'd like to reach out to the heads of other delegations from around the country and make sure they sign the letter," he said.