The Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee — comprised of elected Democratic leaders from counties across the state — adopted a resolution last Saturday at its summer meeting in Valley Forge stating its support for marriage equality.
The measure was spearheaded by out Adams County Democratic Chair Roger Lund.
Among its provisions, the resolution stated that the Pennsylvania Democratic Party officially endorsed “freedom to marry” and called upon all Democratic lawmakers to sign on to legislation backing marriage equality.
It urged all Pennsylvania delegates to September’s Democratic National Convention to back the addition of a marriage-equality plank when the party platform is adopted, and also advocated for Jim Burns, chair of the state Democratic Party, to join the 11 other state party chairs who have called for the endorsement of marriage equality.
In a statement to PGN this week, Burns said he is “proud that our party has endorsed same-sex marriage so that all Pennsylvanians who are in loving, committed relationships and want to marry are able to do so.”
Lindsay Fritchman, press secretary for the state party, said that there “will definitely be discussions as we head to the convention” about Burns’ advocating for marriage equality to be included in the national platform.
Lund, who married his partner in Washington, D.C., said President Obama’s recent decision to support marriage equality motivated him to begin working on the resolution.
“When President Obama made that statement on gay marriage, it brought it to a head for me,” he said. “It seemed as though it was time for our state party to stand with the president and to stand for gays and lesbians in Pennsylvania.”
Lund worked with the LGBT, Progressive and South-Central caucuses to craft the resolution and spent last weekend presenting it to caucus chairs, the executive committee, county chairs, special-interest caucuses, standing committees and the eight regional caucuses.
Backers of the resolution wanted to ensure that the measure had the two-thirds majority support from committeemembers that was needed to suspend the rules — since the resolution was not presented to the State Committee prior to the summer meeting — and allow it to move toward a vote.
Although there was some vocal opposition to the rules-suspension from the Northwest Caucus, Lund said the dissenters were “soundly defeated.”
The eventual resolution passed in a voice vote with, by Lund’s estimation, at least 90-percent support.
“The folks who were against it were clearly, clearly in the minority,” he said, noting that opposition came from most of the Northwest and some of the Southwest caucuses. “The rest of the caucuses were just about unanimous. It was pretty overwhelming.”
State Committee member Sherrie Cohen, co-chair of Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, serves as vice-chair of the LGBT Caucus and as a member of the Progressive Caucus.
She presented the resolution to the Labor and Philadelphia caucuses last weekend, the latter of which showed near-unanimous support, save for two members who voted against the resolution.
"The support was overwhelming," Cohen said. "Barack Obama's declaration in support of marriage equality has been a game-changer and we saw the power of that support Saturday. We're certainly hoping this will have an impact on state legislators, and it's certainly an important step along the way to ensuring that our community wins at least some of the rights we deserve at the state level."
Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin said the resolution’s passage is a symbolic affirmation of recent polls that have found more than half of Pennsylvania residents favor marriage equality.
It is also important to fueling conversation among LGBTs and political leaders about the other LGBT issues the state should be moving on, he said.
“What it’s helped me do is give me the opening to talk about how badly Pennsylvania protects its LGBT citizens overall,” he said. “We have no discrimination or hate-crimes protections, so we need to have a conversation with folks in leadership, and this helps to open the door wide to talk about both marriage and these other issues.”
Lund said he’s eager for the resolution to provide party leaders with more support to sign on to marriage equality.
“I think this can show people who are not sure how much support there is for this issue that more people have their back than they may have thought,” he said. “Hopefully folks who have been timid about being supportive in the past, and who have thought that maybe the time for marriage equality hasn’t come yet, might move forward a bit.”
The resolution’s adoption also signals a shift in the state’s Democratic Party, Lund noted.
He said that a few years ago, the State Committee saw a 40-percent turnover, which helped to bring in a new batch of progressive Democratic leaders.
“For a long time the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has been viewed as conservative, and we now have a very different brand of people running the State Committee,” Lund said. “The committee has become way more open and we’re now more a body that listens to the grassroots. This was an excellent indication of that, and I think this vote bodes well for where the state party is moving.”