- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

SANTA FE, N.M. — Civil rights activists yesterday called for Democrats to take an explicit stand in their 2004 party platform against the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment and for “equal recognition of same-sex relationships.”

Testifying on the final day of hearings for the Democratic Platform Committee, the activists said the platform must speak strongly against the amendment, which defines marriage as only between a man and woman because it is scheduled for a debate in the Senate next month.

“We do not believe discrimination should be enshrined into the Constitution,” said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. “Your statement now, and your statement when you go and meet when you finalize the platform in Miami, is of paramount importance to give strength to your colleagues.”

Same-sex unions are likely to be a critical new issue in the 2004 platform, which will be written next month at a platform committee meeting in Miami.

In 2000, the platform was brief in its support for homosexual rights: “We support the full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation. This would include an equitable alignment of benefits.”

Though most Democratic leaders have said they believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman, some have said they will vote against the pending Federal Marriage Amendment, which would enshrine that definition in the Constitution.

One of those politicians is Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee.

In her submitted testimony, Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Mr. Kerry’s opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment and his record of supporting homosexual rights, but she also had a pointed reminder to Democrats: “We would remind all Democrats that they can speak of their reverence for the institution of marriage without talking about excluding anyone from it.”

Drafting committee members praised the testimony, and one member, Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Philip Johnston, cited the experience in his state, where same-sex couples are now allowed to wed.

“To the best of my knowledge, the world is still spinning on its axis and the sky hasn’t fallen,” he said. “I don’t know any heterosexual marriages that have broken up as a result of this. I just wanted to make that announcement.”

The Republican Party platform in 2000 went the other direction from Democrats: “We support the traditional definition of ‘marriage’ as the legal union of one man and one woman, and we believe that federal judges and bureaucrats should not force states to recognize other living arrangements as marriages.”

The hearings yesterday focused on civil rights, the environment and energy policy. On Friday, the committee heard testimony on health care, job losses and the economy. In the previous two hearings, the committee studied foreign policy and homeland security — both issues expected to play a larger role in the platform this year than in past years, because of the threat of terrorism.

The broad Democratic platform will be largely a reflection of Mr. Kerry’s views, said Los Angeles City Council member Antonio Villaraigosa, one of the co-chairmen of the drafting committee, who said he also expects health care and outsourcing issues to be highlighted more in the 2004 platform than in past years.

Ms. Murphy of the ACLU yesterday also asked for the platform to call specifically for a re-examination of 12 parts of the Patriot Act antiterrorism law, and Hank Dittmar, executive director of Reconnecting America, called for Democrats to support a broad new redesign of how American communities are planned.

“The American dream needs to be updated,” Mr. Dittmar said.

Several panels of witnesses told the committee to reject the entire Bush administration environmental policy, to acknowledge global warming and to call for steps to try to mitigate climate change.

“They say it’s darker before the dawn. We can only hope and pray that John Kerry succeeds as president to the White House, and the sooner the better,” said Leon Billings, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates from Montgomery County who runs a consultancy on environmental policy.

One committee member, former Defense Secretary William J. Perry, accused President Bush of a bait-and-switch on environmental policy.

“President Bush embracing the hydrogen economy is a cynical ploy to divert attention from his not supporting higher [fuel-efficiency] standards,” Mr. Perry said.

And what ire wasn’t directed at Mr. Bush in the hearings often was aimed at corporations, especially the retail chain Wal-Mart, which several panelists criticized over the two days.

Mr. Billings drew laughter from the hearing committee when he said U.S. trade standards allow what amounts to “slave labor” overseas to make “products that come into Wal-Mart — excuse me, our markets.”

Kathryn Harris Tijerina, a stand-in for Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations and the architect of the crusade to open Augusta National Golf Course to female members, warned the panel not to ignore women in their platform.

“These concerns in 2004 have received far less attention than they deserve from candidates and the parties,” she said, reminding the committee that women “are the party’s largest constituency.”

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