BOSTON – "Si se puede!" former presidential candidate Al Sharpton (search) screamed as he energized the Latinos for Kerry Caucus Monday in the Constitution Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel. The delegates responded by chanting the Spanish words meaning "Yes, we can."
Later, in a nearby room, the Service Employees International Union members chanted the Democratic presidential candidate's name so loudly that the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Caucus (search) that had followed the Latino caucus meeting could hear their enthusiasm through the wall.
But inside the GLBT meeting, the mood was more subdued as delegates decried the actions of President Bush, but also expressed skepticism about the commitment of John Kerry to the issues important to them. Both Kerry and John Edwards opposed Bush's proposed constitutional amendment barring gay marriage (search), but, to the dismay of homosexuals, they have said little more than that it is a decision for the states. Homosexuals would like much more. Although they are energized to throw out Bush, a man they see as deeply opposed to gay rights, they wish Kerry would give them more to be excited about.
Democratic National Committee (search) officials, Kerry campaign representatives and others tried to downplay the division within Democratic ranks and stress how bad Bush is on gay issues.
"George Bush has decided that this year you are the scapegoat, and I'm here to tell you that nobody is going to make you a scapegoat," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (search), D-Calif., who received a standing ovation from the caucus and repeatedly drew loud applause by expressing her opposition to Bush. "The choices of this administration are hurtful choices. No one should be rewarded for hurting people."
Sticking to safe territory, Steve Elmendorf, the Kerry-Edwards deputy campaign manager, focused on slamming Bush rather than touting Kerry's initiatives. "I don't think there has ever been a president nearly as bad as this one," Elmendorf said. "The contrast between John Kerry and George Bush could not be deeper."
Although both statements received loud applause, the excitement waned when the conversation turned away from Bush and toward Kerry.
As members of the Platform Drafting Committee representing the GLBT community gave presentations to their caucus, delegates became visibly upset.
"It's not good enough," yelled out one delegate as Jeff Soref, chair of the DNC's GLBT Caucus acknowledged that "there are differences between many of us in the room on the platform."
In fact, the majority of Democratic delegates believe gays should be allowed to marry. A Boston Globe survey of 400 delegates from July 16-21 found that 62 percent favor gay marriage, while 19 percent oppose it and 18 percent said they did not know.
Some Democratic Party operatives acknowledged that the party is not worried about getting these votes, but rather swaying swing voters who may be skeptical of the Democratic Party's traditional affinity to liberal social issues.
"We didn't get everything, but we believe we made a very vigorous effort, and they made a good-faith response," said Roberta Achtenberg, a member of the Platform Drafting Committee and a former San Francisco supervisor who worked for the Clinton administration.
The Platform Committee, which authored the Democratic platform (search), heard several presentations from gay and lesbian groups, but gay marriage is not mentioned in the platform.
The only mention of gays in the platform is a recognition of their equality.
"We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits and protections for these families," the platform reads.
In a press conference Monday morning, Alice Germond, secretary of the Democratic National Committee, said the gay marriage issue, prominent in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage, "did not even come up."
Achtenberg confirmed this.
"I think that it's a pretty strong statement that affirms equality," Achtenberg said of language in the platform. "Beyond that, that's not the role of a nationwide consensus-based document."
Some gay delegates said they understood the political necessity for Kerry not to push the gay marriage issue too far, while praising him for the efforts that he had made.
"The election is so close. Kerry has to appeal to the independent voters. This is not an issue that is necessarily going to appeal to them," said Troy Liggett, a delegate from Indiana.
Liggett said that he is not at all disappointed in Kerry, in part because "anyone would be better than George Bush on gay issues. I'm so angry at George Bush. … He didn't need to be at the forefront of stopping progress."
But other gay delegates said they were feeling marginalized because they believed that their part of the Democratic message was being stifled in favor of this national message.
When Chris DiGiorgio, a delegate from New York, asked convention organizers if they would be able to bring signs supporting gay marriage into the FleetCenter, Soref responded that the convention would be trying to "stay on message," a statement that met grumbling in the room.
Singer Carole King (search), who has been campaigning for Kerry, also addressed the audience and acknowledged problems with Kerry's platform on gay issues.
"I know John Kerry, and I agree with him a lot. I do not agree with him on gay marriage," she said, as the room erupted in cheers. However, she cautioned the audience that while Kerry may not be perfect, "this is a good man who has been your advocate for many, many years."
Although not a delegate, David Loper, a homosexual from Alabama, traveled up to the convention and described the DNC-organized activities as "so welcoming." He praised Kerry for his work opposing the constitutional amendment against gay marriage that failed in the Senate earlier this month. Loper added that gay marriage is only one of many issues that interest gays, while other issues include the concerns of all Americans: the economy and the War on Terror, for example.
Fellow Alabaman, delegate Patricia Todd, said that the DNC has really reached out to the gay community during the convention lead-up. Two hundred thirty-six gay delegates are attending this year, more than any other convention.
"I would like [Kerry] to be stronger on gay marriage, but I understand that this is politics," Todd said.