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The 2012 Democratic Party Platform: Religion, Women, and Children

This is the second in a two-part series of columns on the 2012 party platforms.  The first part, addressing the Republican Party Platform, appeared here on Justia’s Verdict yesterday, Thursday September 6. –Ed.

As I mentioned in my column on the 2012 Republican Party Platform, a party’s platform is evidence of how its leaders are negotiating the various issues.  We can’t possibly know what is going on in the back rooms between the most powerful, but we can at least view the evidence of those opaque exchanges.  This year, both parties’ Platform documents should give any voter pause, and each has its perplexing elements.

The Republican Platform—which I considered in detail in yesterday’s column—was awash in religiosity and public policy that was obviously and directly drawn from religious lobbyists and believers, particularly Catholic bishops and evangelical Christians.  Moreover, the Republican Platform made no effort to speak to the numerous women who have been offended by many of the social policies that have been pushed by various Republican legislators, and by the Party itself, over the past year.

That omission on the Republican side was surprising, given the well-known gender gap, but so is the Democrats’ failure to take on the most obvious, headline-making social problem of our era: child sex abuse.

Religion and the 2012 Democratic Party Platform

The Democrats apparently could not let the Republicans be the only party to pander to believers and “faith-based organizations.”  Thus the Democratic Platform states the following:

“Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history.  We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires.  Faithbased organizations will always be critical allies in meeting the challenges that face our nation and our world—from domestic and global poverty, to climate change and human trafficking.”

The Democratic Platform, however, in contrast to the Republican Platform, does draw the line, by noting that there is a constitutional limit on the government’s relationship with religious organizations: “We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests.”  Kudos to the Democrats for noting that there are, indeed, such constitutional restraints.

There is a deep irony that arises when the two Platforms are compared.  When the Democrats insist on “evidence-based partnerships,” they are saying that the federal government’s funding of religious organizations should be based on facts regarding the success of the organization at issue in serving the federal funding goals.  For example, a religious teen-drug-addiction program should be measured according to its degree of success in treating addiction; that is just common sense.  Thus, the Democrats are demanding accountability from those religious organizations that are taking federal funds.

Yet, the Republican Party, which wants to be known as the party of fiscal responsibility, endorses the right of religious organizations to hire according to religious belief, as opposed to skill or talent in the relevant field of expertise.

The Democratic Platform does not spend much more time than that on religion, other than to note the Party’s support for the “freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.”

On this point, both parties’ Platforms are in agreement: Clergy and religious organizations should not be forced to perform marriages that they oppose on religious grounds.  In other words, while the government may permit same-sex marriage, religious organizations that are opposed to same-sex marriage need not perform those weddings.  (Conversely, a religion whose members consisted solely of homosexuals would not have to perform weddings for heterosexuals!)  Both Platforms make this point more than once.  It is heartening to know that this no-brainer position, at least, can be embraced by both of our major political parties.

The Republicans have expended a fair amount of vitriol in order to make sure that everyone knows that they oppose same-sex marriage, and in so doing, they have wrapped the notion in religious undertones.

In contrast, the Democratic Platform treats the same-sex marriage issue as a secular, anti-discrimination public issue: “We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples.”

The Democrats also “oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples.”

Currently, the Supreme Court has not yet identified such an “equal protection” right, and a number of states have constitutional amendments in place that reject an equal protection framework for same-sex marriage discrimination. Thus, this position is a stretch, as a matter of current constitutional law.

But wrapping an issue in the concept of discrimination takes it far, in our society.  And the Democrats know full well that younger Americans—including many young conservatives—do not oppose gay marriage, so this is an obvious bid to get the young vote and the gay vote out.

The Democratic Platform’s Stances on Women’s and Children’s Issues

Whereas the Republican Platform included line after line on religious issues, with nothing about the equality or the freedom of women, the Democratic Platform, conversely, contains a great deal on the latter issue.  The Democrats obviously intend to offer balm for those women who are currently chafing at the aggressive, misogynist rants that have been heard coming from so many Republican legislators over the past year.

The Democratic Platform states “that women’s rights are civil rights.  That’s why we reaffirm our support for the ERA, recommit to enforcing Title IX, and will urge ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”

You can just see the men at the top of the Republican Party rolling their eyes at the ERA mention, but for many women, the failure of the ERA is an insult and embarrassment in American history.  It is also worth remembering which state sealed the ERA’s fate—Utah, the veritable home of the Republican candidate’s religious heritage.

Instead of diminishing the rights of women, as the Republicans have been attempting to do, in one state after another, the Democratic Platform endorses “expanding protections and opportunities for women and girls around the world.”

As expected, the Democratic Platform also flatly rejects the anti-abortion, anti-contraception message of the Republican Platform, saying that “women have a right to control their reproductive choices. . . [and] Democrats will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers.”  The Party “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade,” and takes the libertarian position that abortion ought to remain “an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.”

Under the Bush Administration, federal funds could not be granted to any foreign family- planning organization that provided information about abortion, or performed abortions.  The Obama Administration lifted that gag order.  Thus, the Democratic Platform also includes a commitment “to supporting family planning around the globe to help women care for their families.”

Thus, insofar as they address the role of women, and medical and reproductive rights relating to women’s health, the two Platforms could not be more distinct.

The two Platforms do share, however, a commitment to ending human trafficking, whether in sex or labor.  There is an odd reference in the Democratic platform to wanting to fight the “sex trafficking in young girls.”  The mention of girls alone seems quite odd, as sex trafficking in boys is, of course, equally despicable.

Unlike the Republican Party Platform, which contained a provision endorsing background checks for teachers, however, the Democratic Platform steers clear of the issue of child sex abuse altogether, except insofar as it mentions the issue of trafficking, as I noted above.  That is a major omission.  Despite the near-daily headlines coming from Penn State, Roman Catholic orders and dioceses, ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, public schools, and private schools, both Parties lacked the “brass,” to use President Clinton’s phrase from his Convention speech, to address the hideous problem that faces between 20 and 25 percent of our children.  This omission is particularly surprising coming from the Democrats, who are often allied with trial lawyers—who have been the leading force for justice for child-sex-abuse victims.

The federal government could do a lot to spur the states to do a better job of finding justice for victims.  This bipartisan silence and lack of leadership on the issue will not get us there.

So far, no Administration has had the guts to investigate the widespread childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic entities.  Federal investigations do continue into Penn State, however, appropriately enough.  So both Platforms leave me with one question for both parties: When will you take up the cause for our children, who are being sexually abused, and whose futures are being destroyed, because the men in power did not do and are not doing the right thing?

Marci A. HamiltonMarci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty and Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. She also runs two active websites covering her areas of expertise, the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, www.RFRAperils.com, and statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, www.sol-reform.com. Professor Hamilton blogs at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights. Her email address is hamilton02@aol.com.
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  • tedsnyder

    Excuse me, “the well known gender gap”? Are you speaking of when women are preferred above better qualified men on a regular basis for public sector and government positions? Or perhaps you are only referring to academia and their well known preference for women over men in professorships and administration positions. Yes there should have been something in both parties platforms that would have stated equality for all people as prescribed by the Constitution of The United States of America, with no special privileges for any one group.

  • tedsnyder

    Of course, ”
    the Democratic Platform steers clear of the issue of child sex abuse altogether”. Obama is a firm proponent of child abuse as evidenced by his choice of Czars to destroy all the remaining decency left in these United States.

  • andru5000

    I couldn’t agree more that both parties are failing miserably in protecting the most vulnerable.

    One thing I object too though is that pro-choice is a libertarian position. Libertarians believe the government should not intervene unless it infringes on the rights of another human being. In the case of abortion, its obvious that it does infringe on the life of another and the government should intervene.

  • Bridgette Neal

    Professor Hamilton, please take a look at my case….I believe I am being denied justice. Neal vs Ors.

  • Bridgette Neal

    Oh, and the the DNC and the Republicans…thanks to the dis-satisfaction with both parties and their interpretations of God’s law vs man’s law, this year I offically became an independent,

  • marich

    I really like and appreciate your reviews of the political platforms and I support your interest in taking up the cause for abused children. However, it is premature to lump Penn state in with the Catholic church as violating young boys. Due process has not been completed and so far the EVIDENCE (not the reports) does not support an institutional nor an intentional cover-up. So far, the evidence is that the one man who actually committed the sex crimes and who has finally been caught and is being punished, did an amazing job of hiding his sins. Perhaps that is the real lesson – how do we recognize a child predator?

 

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