WASHINGTON – Democratic chairman Howard Dean mischaracterized his party's platform on gay rights in an interview courting evangelicals, then set the record straight Thursday when an advocacy group called him on it.
Dean told Christian Broadcasting Network News that the 2004 Democratic platform declares "marriage is between a man and a woman" — just one of the points he made in reaching out to religious conservatives who are largely hostile to the party.
But the platform does not define marriage that way, and his remarks prompted the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to return a $5,000 donation from the Democratic National Committee.
Dean later acknowledged his misstatement, but the group sent back the money anyway. "We need for Governor Dean to demonstrate real leadership on our issues," executive director Matt Foreman said in an interview, "not to equivocate depending on the audience."
Dean sought to establish common ground with religious conservatives in the interview on Pat Robertson's network, a tall order considering their opposition to the Democratic Party's positions on abortion rights, gay rights and some other social issues.
Dean said that "one of the misconceptions about the Democratic Party is that we're godless and that we don't have any values."
He went on: "The truth is, we have an enormous amount in common with the Christian community, and particularly with the evangelical Christian community. And one of the biggest things that Democrats worry about is the materialism of our country, what's on television that our kids are seeing, and the lack of spirituality."
With Republicans embracing the traditional definition of marriage in 2004, Democrats sought to appeal to such traditionalists without giving up their support for gay rights.
The result: a platform plank that left the central question about what defines marriage to the states, and specifically rejected President Bush's support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
It asserted: "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."
Dean stated in the interview: "The Democratic Party platform from 2004 says that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's what it says."
He added that the party differs with some religious leaders in believing "everybody deserves to live with dignity and respect, and that equal rights under the law are important."
After the gay rights group went public with its complaints about his remarks, Dean acknowledged: "I misstated the Democratic Party's platform, which does not say marriage should be limited to a man and a woman," and reasserted the party's commitment to equal protection for all.
Foreman said Dean should be persuading Democrats to fight against ballot initiatives seeking to ban gay marriage, but instead has misrepresented the party's "important and affirming plank" several times.
"There has been a disturbing lack of clarity from Governor Dean about where we fit into the party and the country," he said after Dean corrected himself.
Foreman said the $5,000 was for sponsorship of the group's leadership awards dinner in Washington last week, and will be missed.