Democratic Platform Endorses Gay Marriage

It's been a momentous year for the LGBT community. At the Democratic National Convention, delegates are voting to approve a platform that includes a gay marriage plank. This follows President Obama's announcement in May that he supports gay marriage. These developments, on top of other support from the administration, have led gay and lesbian donors to step up their contributions to the president's re-election campaign this year. Audie Cornish talked with gay delegates and fundraisers about what this year has meant for them.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And, Audie, earlier the delegates, I gather, took care of some important party business and that's adopting the party platform.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Yes. The platform, you know, is a formal statement of the party's basic principles and positions. Now, last week in Tampa, the buzz was about the Republican Party's no exceptions stance on abortion. This week in Charlotte, people are talking about the Democratic Party's platform language on same-sex marriage.

BLOCK: And what does it say?

CORNISH: Well, it explicitly supports gay marriage and calls for the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That's the act that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

BLOCK: This is also, Audie, the year that we saw President Obama announce his support for same-sex marriage.

CORNISH: Right. And as it turns out, that seems to have been a watershed moment of sorts for fundraising within the LGBT community - lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. And to get a real sense of that, I actually went to an LGBT fundraiser and cocktail party the other night here at the North Carolina Dance Theatre in Charlotte.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Can you make sure the rugby boys have yellow wristbands?

CORNISH: Charlotte's gay rugby team, the Charlotte Royals, were in uniform and working the front door, checking the guest list and handing out wristbands.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Inside there were DJs pumping pop music, lots of bow tie-wearing delegates and potential donors. I sat down with the head of this party's sponsorship committee Keith Alyea in one of the two VIP lounges. He tells me it's been a tough year in North Carolina for the LGBT community. This past spring, North Carolina joined the ranks of more than two dozen states to adopt a constitutional amendment effectively banning gay marriage. When President Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage the day after that vote, Alyea says it made a difference.

It was actually very helpful. It healed us a little bit. It was sort of a sigh of relief that you know, this happened, but it's OK. That - well, it's not OK, but we're going to eventually win this battle.

Keith Alyea says the president's announcement spurred locals to donate funds for this event. Charlotte's gay community was eager to show its backing for the convention. Nationally, the Obama campaign saw a boost as well. Following the president's gay marriage announcement, campaign donations jumped three-fold - nearly $9 million in just 72 hours. That's according to an NPR analysis.

ANDREW TOBIAS: It was very exciting. It was an amazing thing.

CORNISH: And it certainly made this guy's job easier. This is Andrew Tobias, the treasurer for the DNC. He's gay and a top bundler, one of the elite fundraisers who not only give their money but gather together big checks from their friends and colleagues.

TOBIAS: You know, things were going fine, and then suddenly, wham, this amazing thing happened. By the way, it was pretty amazing when "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, it was pretty wonderful when hate crimes legislation, the first federal legislation for us was ever done, but this was something that, you know, everybody just been so hoping for. And when the president finished evolving and stood up for us, we had a good week.

CORNISH: Tobias points out it wasn't so long ago that gay activists claimed to have had $1 million fundraising offer refused by Democrat Michael Dukakis. This election cycle, gay donors have given generously, not just to the Obama campaign but to superPACs.

RICHARD SOCARIDES: You know, there's a lot of money in politics, right? And there's - now there's a lot of gay money in politics.

CORNISH: Richard Socarides is a lawyer and a writer. He worked on gay rights issues in the Clinton administration and today is a delegate representing New York.

SOCARIDES: I personally think that we ought to have campaign finance reform, public funding of campaigns. And I think we ought to have transparency but, you know, we have to play by the rules. And gays and lesbians are playing by those rules which includes being able to donate to superPACs and not to have those donations disclosed.

CORNISH: But there was a time when, you know, the Dukakis campaign gave back money, and said, you know, right now.

SOCARIDES: Yeah, and the Dole campaign gave back money. Yes. Well, no one seems to be giving back any money this year, do they?

CORNISH: And it's not just Democrats benefiting from the fund-raising muscle. This summer a hedge fund executive and top Republican Party donor started a superPAC to back GOP candidates who support gay marriage. Brian Ellner, a major Democratic fund-raiser from New York, says it's clear that gay rights groups are having an influence on both sides of the aisle.

BRIAN ELLNER: And some of Mitt Romney's biggest supporters have broken with him on this question, like David Koch, who came out for marriage equality, like Dick Cheney, like Laura Bush, like Megan McCain. So many Republicans and big money-raising Republicans support marriage equality now. So in a sense it's almost flipped on its head. I think that you'd be hard pressed to find a politician who wouldn't take either LGBT money or money from those who support marriage equality.

CORNISH: But at what point do those dollars become real influence?

ELLNER: I think we're going to see it in this election.

CORNISH: Still, even people here acknowledge gay marriage isn't the number one issue for voters this election. Unless, as Richard Socarides told me, you're gay and you want to get married.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Our co-host, Audie Cornish, reporting this week from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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