Almost immediately after Amendment 1 constitutionally banned same-sex marriage in North Carolina, a horde of liberal commentators—with pitchforks and torches in hand—took to the blogosphere to vent frustration. Hoping to exact revenge on the Tar Heel State for enacting such a discriminatory amendment, many are demanding that Democrats jettison plans to host the 2012 party convention in Charlotte.
Gay Marriage USA, a New York-based group, has been a prominent voice in this recent campaign to ditch North Carolina for more tolerant pastures. The advocacy group is primarily spreading its message via an online petition that has already gathered more than 93,000 signatures. The petition urges Democrats to move their convention “to a state that upholds values of equality and liberty, and which treats all citizens equally.”
Let’s not kid ourselves; there is absolutely no chance of a state swap. For one, the spokeswoman for the Democratic National Convention Committee already told CNN, “the convention is staying in Charlotte.” This stance, of course, is unsurprising. Party conventions are huge affairs that take months to plan and finance. Changing the site of the convention this late in the game would be a bad PR move, making the Democratic Party look frazzled and disorganized at a time when it needs to show strength and unity.
The calls to move the convention to another state have thus been silly from the start. I doubt that pundits actually thought they would succeed in getting Democrats to give up on Charlotte. But then again, perhaps this was never their goal to begin with. For although they have failed to change the locale of the convention, they have nonetheless succeeded in propagating the view that Charlotte does not deserve to host the convention, and that it will do so only because it is too late to pull the plug.
Most reporting on the matter has reflected this view. The Washington Post, ABC News, and CNN, for example, noted that changing the site of the convention would be a practical impossibility at this point, while also observing that Charlotte seems like a bad choice in hindsight. The following reasons have been adduced: 1) President Obama will have to speak from Bank of America Stadium, symbolizing an unholy alliance between the party and banks. 2) The state’s Democratic governor has decided to forgo re-election. 3) The state Democratic Party is involved in a sexual harassment suit. 4) Unemployment in the state remains high. 5) Charlotte has no union hotels, and North Carolina is a right-to-work state, and 6) The state recently passed Amendment 1.
Reasons 1-5 have been known for quite some time, yet no one thought of making much fuss over them until recently. Reason 6, then, is the real reason why pundits think Democrats should ditch Charlotte.
Now, as a gay Charlottean Democrat, I can promise you that I am a lot angrier at the passage of Amendment 1 than the pundits in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. But that anger does not blind me to the simple fact that party conventions are not meant to serve as gold stars awarded to the state with the best record on gay rights (if they were, Democrats would always hold their convention in Massachusetts). In fact, the last national Democratic convention was held in Colorado, a state that barely grants any legal recognition to same-sex couples and that has constitutionally banned same-sex marriage since 2006. Why was there no push to change the site of the convention then?
The location of a party convention is meant to serve strategic, rather than idealistic, purposes. Republicans, for example, have decided to hold their national convention in Florida. That decision was made with political strategy in mind: Florida’s 29 electoral votes are indispensable for the GOP this cycle.
Democrats, for their part, are facing a much grimmer electoral reality today than in 2008. If they have any hope of winning the White House this time around, they must campaign seriously in the South. Conventions are a great way to increase party turnout in a specific state—and North Carolina is fertile ground for Democrats in this regard. The state has some 2.7 million registered Democrats and only 1.9 million registered Republicans. A Democratic win in North Carolina, moreover, is entirely within the realm of possibility. Recent polls show Romney and Obama statistically tied in the state. At the same time, North Carolina has the fifth largest population of African-Americans in the country, a voting bloc that turned out in great numbers, and voted with religious loyalty, for President Obama in 2008.
In conclusion, the decision about where to host a national party convention has always been one of simple political calculation. Parties look to states where they have a reasonable chance of winning, and then compare the marginal political benefits of choosing one location over another. It is a nice dream to hope, as some now are, that the Democratic convention will be hosted in “a state that upholds values of equality and liberty, and which treats all citizens equally.” But in this nation of 50 states, only eight states satisfy this high bar (having enshrined marriage equality), and none of these eight is likely to go red in 2012. The political benefits that will flow from a Democratic convention in Charlotte, however, remain as real today as they did the night before Amendment 1 was passed. For these reasons, Charlotte will rightly host the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Photo Credit: Willamor Media