DEMOCRATS SET TO BECOME THE PARTY OF MARRIAGE

The political outcome of President Barack Obama's announcement that can be made most confidently is the effect on the Democratic Party. It is now nearly certain that in the near future, gay marriage will be a party litmus-test issue on a par with reproductive choice — if not even more sacrosanct.

That's what has happened in Massachusetts, where positions on marriage were far from a consensus among Democrats in 2003. Today, no Democrat could hope to win a primary for significant office without supporting it — even for such a seemingly irrelevant position as state auditor, which saw Guy Glodis lose, in part, because of his past opposition.

While some old Democratic office-holders have still never come out in favor of same-sex marriage, all upcoming pols know that they are unlikely to advance far in the party without taking the approved position.

The same will undoubtedly now happen in the Democratic Party nationally, says Arline Isaacson, veteran gay-rights advocate in Boston.

It won't come about all at once. Many Democrats, in their more conservative states or districts, will still oppose full marriage equality in 2012 and beyond.

Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Jon Tester of Montana all face re-election this year, and none seems eager to quickly follow Obama across the divide.

But Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island immediately announced that he was switching to a pro-marriage position. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota quickly asserted their support as well.

That's because the definition of "good enough" on the issue was rewritten the moment Obama proclaimed his support for full marriage rights, Isaacson says. "Anyone now who wants to be viewed as a true supporter of GLBT equality can't hide behind the president."

Obama's reversal on the issue means that the current leader and national face of the party is on board. So is the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. The party's next nominee almost certainly will be, too; the early favorites include Vice-President Joe Biden, who awkwardly preceded Obama in embracing equal marriage, and governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Martin O'Malley of Maryland, both of whom signed same-sex marriage into law for their states.

Even before Obama's announcement, several state party chairmen — including John Walsh of the Massachusetts Democratic Party — had endorsed putting a marriage-equality plank in the national party platform at this summer's convention.

It's far from certain that the party is ready to take that step yet, even with Obama's expressed support. "I realize that it's a process that we have to go through," Walsh says. "But I feel that's a direction we need to go in as a party, and it is important that Massachusetts be a part of that."

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