Democrats leave marriage equality out of platform

By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Dan Hanley stood with outstretched arms amid the crowds shuffling towards four-dollar slices of pizza and overcooked hamburgers during lunch at the Democratic State Assembly last month. He held a rainbow colored hand-written sign, “Full marriage equality in the state platform.”

The 44-year-old delegate along with Pamela Scarf, 35, both from Jefferson County, attempted to replace the state party’s platform of civil unions with full marriage equality through a last-minute minority plank.

“We are the party that stands up for equality,” Hanley said. “When you have people like Dick Cheney and Laura Bush verbally supporting full marriage equality, yet the state of Colorado Democratic Platform does not, I have a hard-core solid issue against that.”

Hanley and Scarf first brought the issue before the Jefferson County Democratic Assembly last April. They gathered enough delegate signatures to propose a change in county platform language from supporting civil unions for same-sex couples to supporting full marriage equality for same sex couples. The county assembly passed the plank by a voice vote. Hanley said he was blown away by the overwhelming support.

“It felt amazing to be with people who put my marriage on the same level as theirs,” Hanley said.

The plank never made it into the state party’s platform. A 146-person platform committee made up of county chairs, precinct committee persons and others involved in the party helped create a working document representing the 1,450 pages of planks passed by counties across the state.

El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Hal Bidlack chaired this year’s platform committee. Bidlack said the committee used the 2008 state Democratic platform as a guide. He broke the committee into groups of two to five people who looked closely at each section. They kept relevant planks, such as the section on healthcare, and removed irrelevant ones, such as the section calling for the impeachment of former President Bush.

Once the language of each section was ironed out the whole committee voted on each plank where 80 percent support was required. If a plank fell below the 80 percent threshold the committee debated the issue and voted again. If the plank did not receive a simple majority it was removed from the platform.

Bidlack said he does not remember the specific plank changing the party’s stance on marriage equality, adding that it must have died somewhere in the committee’s process.

The last hope for Hanley and Scarf to change the state party’s platform was through the minority plank process, where 15 signatures from platform committee members had to be delivered to Bidlack before the gavel fell at the state assembly. Then the state assembly could vote on the plank and a two-thirds vote would secure its passage.

Just before 9 a.m. on the day of the assembly, Hanley turned in 16 signatures to Bidlack including several from state representatives and two state senators. Bidlack checked the names against his list of platform committee members, but only eleven names matched. The minority plank failed.

“We allowed ourselves about 10 minutes to be bummed out, but we agreed to enjoy the assembly no matter what happened,” Scarf said.

Bidlack said Hanley and Scarf did not have a whole lot of time, and suspects that delegates were confused when asked if they were on the platform committee. He said the five delegates claiming to be on the state platform committee most likely sat on county platform committees.

“I am totally a believer in marriage equality,” Bidlack said. “It’s a darn shame, but the rules are there to prevent crazy last minute things from entering the state’s platform, like nobody can be elected a candidate unless they are an Air Force vet.”

Hanley said the Democratic Party generally avoids the marriage equality issue and believed that using the minority plank process could invoke discussion among party delegates. After failing to even get a vote on the plank, Hanley spent his lunch pleading the case for full marriage equality.