Democratic Party's Role in the Evolution of the Gay Political Movement

How important was the Democratic Party’s role in promoting gay rights in the US between 1970s and 2015?

Organised gay political movement is traced back to the establishment of the Mattachine Foundation in 1951 and the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955 (Valelly, 2012).The promotion of gay rights or the rights of the LGBT communities is a political movement in itself and is closely interlinked with the general politics as well in the United States (Valelly, 2012). As such, the LGBT politics itself can be considered to be a part of the American political development as argued by Valelly (2012). This essay argues that the Democratic Party has played a significant role in its alliance with the gay political movement in the 1970s.

Valelly (2012) argues that the gay political movement set the stage for alliance with the Democratic Party and also become a factor for a two-party conflict. This suggests a significant role played by the Democratic Party within the gay rights movement. Indeed, one of the issues on which Democrats and Republicans are increasingly divided is on the issue of gay rights (Karol, 2012). Gay rights activists have also been more prominent in the Democratic Party (Karol, 2012). Consequently, Democratic presidents too play a role in the promotion of gay rights. This role continued during the Obama administration in which several LGBT initiatives were adopted by the federal government (Valelly, 2012). Within the Democratic Party itself, a gay and lesbian caucus emerged at the Democratic National Convention in 1980 and at the Democratic National Committee in 1983 (Karol, 2012).


The Democratic Party has been able to promote the gay rights as opposed to the Republican Party has not been able to or willing to do so to the same extent is also due to the latter’s emphasis on traditional family values (interpreted as antigay) while the liberal orientation of the Democratic Party allows it to do so (Haider-Markel & Meier, 1996). It has been argued that “LGBT activists found a home in the Democratic Party” (Karol, 2012, p. 3). What this suggests is that the politics of Democratic Party was perceived by LGBT activists to be amenable to the gay rights movement. There is evidence in literature that demonstrates how the Democratic Party has sought to align itself with the gay political movements also uphold different rights of the gay people. Starting with the modern American gay rights movement in the Stonewall riots of 1969, and the 1970s electoral politics which incorporated this movement, particularly in the Dianne Feinstein campaign which reached out to gay rights activists for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, gay rights movement was increasingly incorporated into the Democratic Party (Hirshman, 2012). In 1972, gay activists increasingly sought and received recognition in the Democratic Platforms and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force founded in 1973 sought to make the Democratic Party more responsive to the gay community (Karol, 2012). These early steps by the gay activists clearly indicate that of the two main parties in the country, Republican Party and Democratic Party, the gay activists were naturally aligned to the Democratic Party and thought that of the two political parties, it is the Democratic Party that may be more amenable to supporting and promoting gay rights. It may be submitted that in this conclusion, gay activists who aligned themselves with Democratic Party seems to have been justified because the Democratic Party has played an important role in promoting gay rights.

Since 1977 to 2015, there have been three Democratic presidents in the White House. President Carter onwards, Democratic presidents have attempted both symbolic and practical measures for showing their acceptance and recognition of gay rights. Symbolic initiatives include the June 2009 LGBT Pride reception at the White House, which was the first time such an event was hosted at the White House (Valelly, 2012). During the Obama presidency, there was also the addition of the international protection of gay rights to the human rights criteria of US foreign policy (Valelly, 2012). Initiatives on gay rights have also included the application of such gay rights to the armed forces, particularly in the context of exclusion and discharge of lesbians and gays from military service. President Clinton in 1993 sought to end the ban on gay and lesbian service but was resisted by the military leaders of the time. However, this attempt by the Democratic Party to allow gay personnel to serve in the military is notable in the 1990s. In the administration of President Obama, the military leaders were finally amenable ending the ban on gay personnel serving in the military (Valelly, 2012). Furthermore, President Obama also issued orders to improve the federal government's treatment of LGBT employees, to improve Medicare funded hospitals’ handling the visitation rights of LGBT patients and their partners (Valelly, 2012). Obama is widely seen to be the president who has done the most for the promotion of gay rights in the United States even amongst the other Democratic Party presidents (McThomas & Buchanan, 2012). At the same time, there are areas where even President Obama has not been able to promote gay rights in certain areas while attempt was definitely made; an example can be seen in the Obama administration failed attempt to enact the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) (McThomas & Buchanan, 2012). Nevertheless, Democratic Party has remained the party that has been popular with the LGBT community because of its alignment with the rights of gay rights (Lewis, Rogers, & Sherrill, 2011).

To conclude, the gay rights movement found a support in the Democratic Party very early in the gay rights movement and since the 1970s, there is a clear alignment between the gay rights movement politics and the Democratic Party movement. This is also reflected in the Democratic presidents’ attempts since 1970s to incorporate rights of the gay people. The Obama administration in particular is noted for its attempts to promote gay rights.

How far do you agree with the Democratic Party liberals that a wall of separation should exist between religion and state?

I strongly agree with the Democratic Party liberals that there should be strict separation between religion and state. I premise my argument on the theory of secularism and liberalism that goes back to the enlightenment philosophy and literature. I would also argue that this enlightenment philosophy is also the basis for some of the important positions taken in the Constitutional law of the United States and for that reason, the argument that there should be a separation between religion and state is also aligned with the Constitutional law.

Enlightenment philosophy emerged in Europe in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries; this philosophy challenged the non-secular discourse of the Church which had hitherto dominated the world view of the Europeans (Levinson & Bradley, 2011). One of the aspects of the enlightenment philosophy was its emphasis on secularism, or the separation between the Church and the state (or religion and state for non-Christian nations). The argument of the liberals within the Democratic Party can be linked to the argument put forth by the enlightenment philosophers.

Enlightenment discourse is the root of the ideals of liberty, equality and secularism. The principle of secularism itself led to the changes within the political and social institutions, particularly in the breaking away of these institutions from the influence of the Church, which is also relevant to the United States. It can be argued that it does not make sense if the American state is under the influence of the Church and that it should represent or demonstrate a strong link between the state and religion. That is because it would amount to state representing a particular religion and that would be contrary to the principles of equality and liberty that are enshrined in the constitution of the United States. This would also mean that important principles and practices, such as, those involved in schooling system, or even the military, would be influenced by the religious principles that the state espouses. One of the tasks of the reformation led by enlightenment scholars was to decrease the influence of religion of the functions of the state, including the schooling system which at one point was heavily influenced by the Church in the European countries (Beales, 2005). If the state is not secular and if a wall of separation does not exist between the state and religion, the effect of this position would be that the state represents some religion or prioritises religious principles when it is convenient to do so.

The effects of non-separation between religion and state would mean that important policy can be made on the basis of such religious principles; this would be reflected in different aspects of the social and political institutions, including schools, gender rights, even employment. To take the example of schooling to illustrate this point, in the period of history when states were not secular, and there was no separation between the state and religion, the schools and universities were guided by the Christian doctrine and this was reflected in the non-acceptance of even scientific discoveries like earth being round and revolving around the sun (Levinson & Bradley, 2011). The adoption of enlightenment theory of secularism led to the unshackling of education system and the creation of the modern school (Levinson & Bradley, 2011). This led to the promotion of science, expansion of knowledge and even reformation of society (Cook & Klay, 2015). Modern schools in America are founded on the same principles and the separation between the state and the religion and must continue to be so. This can only happen when the state and religion remain separated.

The separation between the state and religion is the most exceptionally seen in France. However, it need not be seen as an antithesis to religiosity as argued by Beard, Ekelund, Ford, Gaskins, and Tollison (2013) who write that being secular in terms of there being a separation between state and religion, does not necessarily mean that there is religiosity absence. In other words, for those who argue that being secular would mean that one is turning their back to religion, it can be counter argued that adopting principles of social secularism would not come in the way of state respecting and upholding religious principles and theory when required. These ideas have also been invoked by British thinker George Holyoake, who promoted the idea that society and government, should be based upon the principles of science and reason and by Holyoake in his Origin and Nature of Secularism (1896), who argued that human society in all respects should be separated from the supernatural and non-scientific principles (Beard, Ekelund, Ford, Gaskins, & Tollison, 2013). These arguments are not anti-religion, but are in favour of separating the social and government functions from religion because there is a potential for influence of superstition and dogma when such separation is not effected. Based on this argument, it is submitted that it is not appropriate to have a link between state and religion because this can have an impact on the social and political institutions to the extent of involving superstition and dogma or even favouritism to one particular religion over the others.

To conclude, the argument that there should be a separation between state and religion is based on the enlightenment theory which promoted liberal and secular values. This argument was central to the modernising of education system as well as other social and political institutions in countries that adopted principles of secularism. I would argue that it is essential to continue adhering to this principle of separation between the state and religion. This would help to continue supporting scientific and equal values for different social and political systems. To this extent, I agree with the Democratic Party liberals who argue that there should be separation between state and religion.

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Beales, D. (2005). Enlightenment and Reform in Eighteenth-Century Europe . New York: IB Tauras.

Beard, T., Ekelund, R., Ford, G., Gaskins, B., & Tollison, R. (2013). Secularism, religion, and political choice in the United States. Politics and Religion, 6(4), 753-777.

Cook, S. A., & Klay, W. E. (2015). George Washington and Enlightenment Ideas on Educating Future Citizens and Public Servants. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 20(1), 45-55.

Haider-Markel, D. P., & Meier, K. J. (1996). The politics of gay and lesbian rights: Expanding the scope of the conflict. The Journal of Politics, 58(2), 332-349.

Karol, D. (2012). How Does Party Position Change Happen? The Case of Gay Rights in the US Congress. New Orleans: Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association.

Levinson, A., & Bradley, M. P. (2011). A Companion to the Anthropology of Education. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Lewis, G. B., Rogers, M. A., & Sherrill, K. (2011). Lesbian, gay, and bisexual voters in the 2000 US presidential election. Politics & Policy, 39(5), 655-677.

McThomas, M., & Buchanan, R. J. (2012). President Obama and gay rights: The 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Political Science & Politics, 45(3), 442.

Valelly, R. M. (2012). LGBT Politics and American Political Development. Annual Review of Political Science, 15, 313-332.

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