- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wanted: homosexual Democrats.

Democratic parties in 15 states and Puerto Rico have set numerical goals for homosexual delegates at the party’s national convention this summer, doubling the number that set a standard in 2000.

The effort comes as same-sex “marriage” has emerged as a divisive political issue, particularly in Massachusetts, where Democrats will gather in July to choose their presidential nominee. Barring a last-minute ruling, homosexual “marriage” will be legal in the state beginning Monday.

Both President Bush and Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry oppose homosexual “marriage,” although the Republican incumbent has backed a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex “nuptials.” Mr. Kerry supports civil unions.

Democrats are determined to ensure that homosexuals are part of their convention ranks. Delegates should “look like the nation as whole,” said Winnie Stachelberg, political director for the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual rights advocacy group.

According to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), 212 delegates, or about 5 percent, of the more than 4,300 at the party’s 2000 convention in Los Angeles were homosexual. They came from seven states with numerical goals, as well as states without.

The increase in 2004 is in part “a signal of growing acceptance of gays and lesbians nationwide,” said Eric Stern, who directs the DNC’s outreach efforts to those groups.

Democrats aggressively have courted homosexual voters and their campaign dollars — with significant success. In 2000, exit polls showed that Al Gore got 75 percent of the votes cast by self-identified homosexuals, compared with 25 percent for Mr. Bush.

National convention delegates formally choose a party’s presidential nominee. Among Democrats, a DNC panel signs off on a state delegate selection plan, including diversity goals that can range from the number of blacks and Hispanics to age breakdown.

In California, the target is 22 homosexual men and 22 lesbians among the 440-member delegation. Rhode Island is seeking one homosexual among its 32 delegates.

Officials are quick to point out that the goals aren’t quotas. Neither a state nor a presidential campaign is penalized for not reaching these goals. However, state delegations are required to have equal numbers of men and women.

Democratic and Kerry campaign officials say they haven’t had problems reaching the goals. In many instances, parties coordinate with local chapters of homosexual advocacy groups such as the National Stonewall Democrats to recruit potential delegates.

Karen Hammer, chairwoman of that organization’s Colorado chapter, will be part of her state’s 64-member delegation to Boston. The state party this year added the goal of three homosexual delegates.

“We decided we should be getting some of those seats because of our status needing protection for equal rights … should be on par with other groups,” said Miss Hammer, who is pledged to support Mr. Kerry.

Rachel Morse, a social worker from Oklahoma City, is another Stonewall Democrat member and Kerry delegate. Oklahoma does not have a delegate goal for homosexuals.

Generally, application forms to become a delegate include questions about sexual orientation that help state parties and campaign officials determine whether the applicant fits a diversity need. Answering is optional, officials say, but people such as Miss Morse said privacy isn’t an issue for many delegates who already are politically active and whose backgrounds are well-known.

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