A journalist by training, Meline Toumani shocked friends and family by moving to Turkey and embarking on a journey to understand a people and a country she'd been taught were the enemy. The result is "There Was and There Was Not," part political history, part deeply personal memoir.
Last month, gay rights activists successfully lobbied the Democratic Party’s platform committee to endorse “marriage equality” for the first time. But voters will ultimately decide whether same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land in states across the country. The issue goes before Maryland voters this fall, as they consider a ballot initiative on the state’s same-sex marriage law. Earlier this year, voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment to ban the practice. We chat with advocates and legislators from both states about the dynamics of the issue.
- Matt Comer Editor, QNotes
- Marcus Brandon Member, North Carolina House of Representatives (D-Greensboro)
- Margaret McIntosh Member, Maryland House of Delegates (D-District 43, Baltimore City)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington and from the studios of the GROUNDCREW in Charlotte, N.C., welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. We're here for the Democratic National Convention.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILater in the broadcast, who is spending money here for the parties and events and where and how you get to decide why. But first, recent polls show the advantage long held by Democrats among LGBT voters is starting to shrink and while same-sex marriage rights and anti-discrimination laws are important to gay and lesbian voters, for many the number-one issue this election cycle is the economy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIEven so, Democrats are taking what some consider a bold step. Others see it as a political ploy to appeal to LGBT voters this year. Here to help us parse the significance of this move is Margaret McIntosh. Maggie McIntosh represents Maryland's 43rd District, Baltimore City in the House of Delegates. She's also serving as a Maryland delegate to the DNC this week. Delegate McIntosh, so glad to see you, thank you for joining us.
DELEGATE MARGARET MCINTOSHThank you, glad to be here.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us Matt Comer, he is the editor of QNotes, an LGBT publication based here in Charlotte, N.C. Matt Comer, thank you for joining us.
MR. MATT COMERThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Charlotte is Marcus Brandon. Marcus Brandon represents Greensboro in the North Carolina House of Representatives. He's also a member of the North Carolina delegation here at the Democratic National Convention, Delegate Brandon, thank you for joining us.
MR. MARCUS BRANDONThank you so much. It's an honor and privilege to be here.
NNAMDIThe honor and privilege is all mine. You too can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Will the party's position on same-sex marriage influence your vote this November? Why or why not? 800-433-8850, you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
NNAMDIThis year for the first time, the Democratic Party platform includes a plank in support of same-sex marriage. How significant is that move for each of you? I'll start with you, Delegate McIntosh.
MCINTOSHWell, it's very significant and having just read the language this morning, I might note that the language not only is strong in its support, but it also mirrors, I think, what we have tried to accomplish legislatively in several states across the country.
MCINTOSHIt not only spells out strong support for equality and fairness, but it also states that it preserves the right of religious leaders and clergy to determine how their church or their organization will actually treat same-sex marriage. It preserves the right for a religious marriage to religious organizations.
NNAMDIDelegate Brandon, how important is it to you? Marcus Brandon, can you hear me?
BRANDONI can hear you now. Can you repeat the question, please?
NNAMDIThe question is, for the first time that the Democratic platform includes a plank in support of same-sex marriage, how significant, how important is that move to you?
BRANDONI think that, for me, I think it's extremely important. I think that just throughout our history, we've always had to deal with civil rights and laws do some things, but what we really need to do is change the mindset. And so when you have the president of the United States come out in support of marriage equality and have the Democratic Party come and stand behind that, I think that's significant in terms of being able to move people from one place to the next on this issue.
BRANDONAnd you saw immediately as soon as the president came out and made his statement that the polls moved tremendously, particularly among African-Americans about how they feel about this issue so I am very ecstatic about it and I'm very happy that our president has decided, and our party has decided to take this stance.
COMERI think as a journalist, as a citizen, as someone who also identifies as a Democrat, I'm very grateful that the president came out in support of marriage equality and I do think that the adoption of this particular plank in the platform is going to make a difference especially to young people who are looking to their elders for real leadership.
COMERAnd I think the president has shown a great amount of courage. You know, you mentioned earlier that this might be some sort of political ploy, but I don't see how that can be when we've seen state after state after state adopt constitutional amendments and this is still very much a divisive issue and so I think the president and the party leadership has shown great courage in adopting this.
NNAMDIIndeed, you have in a way answered my next question because I was about to say that some see a political motivation behind this rather than genuine support. Do you think that there is more strategy than sincerity behind the move or do you think it's a combination of both?
COMERWell, I mean, it's politics, right? So politicians never do anything without consulting polls, but I think if you look at the polls in some states, you know maybe there is support for marriage equality. In North Carolina, there certainly was not support for it.
COMERWe adopted an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment by a large margin so have many other states. So in some areas, it might be strategy, but in other areas, it's taking a risk and I think that's where the president and other party leaders have shown courage.
NNAMDIRepresentative Brandon, what combination do you see here between sincerity and political strategy?
BRANDONI agree with Matt. I think it was great strategically. I'm a big, you know, I'm in politics so I understand strategically. I think those who are that against it, you know, those that are. They're never going to vote for President Obama under any circumstances anyway no matter how he came out on this issue.
BRANDONAnd so what this does, I think, it was a great strategy to get those who may not have wanted to go out and vote in 2012 and particularly are among the community, now have a reason to go and do so. Someone addressed their issues. And I think it increases our vote total. I don't think it decreases it at all. Those people who are against this are going to be against the president no matter what so I don't think -- it's either a wash or we're ahead.
NNAMDIDelegate McIntosh, for activists do the means and motivation ultimately matter if the goal is met in the end?
MCINTOSHAh, here's what I know about, what I think President Obama had in mind. I think that when you look at polling on same-sex marriage in any state in this country and across this country, you see that the younger generations of folks coming along really, strongly support same-sex marriage.
MCINTOSHSo I do think this was a move on the Obama administration's part to really speak to the generation of folk that follow him, that vote for him and that support him. I think what this does for our platform is actually say to the next generation, the younger generations in America, we're the party that is on your side that believes the way you do.
MCINTOSHAnd I think it's a generational move on the part of our party to embrace the next generations of Americans. I will say this, you know, we have on the ballot in Maryland, a vote on same-sex marriage.
NNAMDIComing up in November.
MCINTOSHComing up in November. And I will tell you that the largest change in the support over the last year and a half of polling in Maryland on this issue has come from the African-American community. And it came predominately post President Obama's announcement. So I do think that this has provided an important shift in thinking, predominately in the African-American community and it's important to us in Maryland.
MCINTOSHAnd seven out of ten voters who say they're supporting President Obama support same-sex marriage in Maryland.
NNAMDIMaggie McIntosh represents Maryland's 43rd District, Baltimore City in the House of Delegates. She's also serving as a Maryland delegate to the Democratic National Convention this week. She joins us in our studios in Charlotte, N.C. and along with Matt Comer, editor of QNotes, an LGBT publication based here in Charlotte, N.C.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Marcus Brandon. He represents Greensboro in the North Carolina House of Representatives. He's also a member of the North Carolina delegation here at the DNC. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation, if you have questions or comments. A lot of people do, on this issue already, about whether it's strategic or genuine. Here is Daniel in Arlington, Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHi, Kojo. Hi all, how are you?
DANIELSo I wanted to kind of make a comment. I'm 25 years old so I fall into the younger generation. I'm also gay so voting for the president after he announced that makes sense. But in the vein that this was targeted at attracting the LGBT vote, I'd have to disagree because strategically that doesn't make sense.
DANIELThere just aren't enough raw numbers and when you look at them, they're also usually condensed in states that are already going to vote blue. I think the question in my mind is more whether it's targeted at sort of re-affirming people who have questions about whether Obama has been re-enforcing civil liberties, which has typically been the Democratic platform, and whether your guests think that that's actually the vote that this is targeted at. And also, well, I'll leave it there.
NNAMDIWell, Representative Brandon, do you think this is simply a way of re-enforcing what our caller says is the traditional Democratic Party commitment to civil liberties? Well, I'll put that question -- oh, go ahead, please, Marcus Brandon.
BRANDONYeah, well, I was going to say that, you know, it is in a lot of states and especially North Carolina, we have point where President Obama won by 14,000 votes and that's less than, you know, ten votes per precinct and so in my state, certainly it's a margin that could tip over by having that.
BRANDONBut I do think that it is a case that, you know, I swear I wanted our general assembly to talk about it. We're Democrats and that's what we do and that's who we are and we fight for civil liberties and social justice for everyone so it was very disappointing to me when I saw ten Democrats cross over and vote for this.
BRANDONBut I do think that talking about it in terms of civil rights and social justice issues does bode well for the party because it goes to an overall conversation of inclusiveness that the president is trying to convey in this election. The more people that are involved in our country, the more people that get to participate, the better off we are as a country. So I think it's an overall conversation and I agree with that.
NNAMDIAnd I know that you come from a civil rights background yourself, Marcus Brandon.
NNAMDISo our next caller, Ryan in Rockville, Md., the issue is one that will probably resonate with you. But Ryan, speak for yourself, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RYANHi, Kojo. I don't think that this is a ploy of any kind. I think that we elected a president who is a constitutional lawyer and who sees that this is a complete civil rights issue that black people just went through maybe 50 years ago. The Constitution guarantees all persons in this country, not whether they're gay, whether it's a choice, whether it's genetic. That doesn't have any bearing on whether they are allowed to marry each other or not.
RYANAnd so the Constitution doesn't say that. So, him being a constitutional lawyer just agrees with what the Constitution says. So the thing that bothers me is when black ministers get up and forget about their former struggle that their parents had to endure and make this all about religion, which is exactly what the Republican Party would want them to do.
RYANI happen to be a 37-year-old heterosexual male who is married and this doesn't really have any bearing on me whatsoever, but it really bothers me that people aren't calling it for what it actually is.
NNAMDIAnd back to you, Marcus Brandon, because here in North Carolina where President Obama won in 2008 -- he won in some measure by a margin that was helped along by the black vote, but it is my understanding that the initiative that was passed here last year that essentially banned same-sex marriage was voted heavily in favor of by black voters. How do you resolve that dilemma here in North Carolina?
BRANDONWell, we've got to be able to talk about it in a different way. Like I said, I don't think that even the campaign -- oh and a lot of things we did talk about the way I would like for us talk about it. But in the same sense, you have -- I was in a -- I was on the ballot, too, in a major primary 'cause it's a Democratic district and overwhelmingly about 67 percent. My district said we don't care that Marcus was LGBT, that we are still going to support him.
BRANDONSo I think that although people are not there all the way there on marriage, they're certainly there on other issues. And we've got to continue to move the conversation or continue to move people from one place to the next. Because it is such a religious doctrine, that is the only thing that trumps everything else. And so I think that we have to understand that, particularly in the south. When we deal with marriage they automatically referenced to their religion and it's a hard thing to overcome.
BRANDONI mean, the same conversation I had with Republicans, it's the same conversation I have with my Nanna and my parents. And so, you know, when you deal with religion, it's not necessarily Republican/Democrat. It's just a deeply held belief and I think our president had to move from there also. And he did move from there. He didn't always have this position. So it's up to us in the community to not yell at people and not scream at people and call them bigots and things like that, but have conversations so we can move them to the place that we want them to be.
BRANDONAnd I think that's what we did with the president and I think we can do that in the south and all over this country.
MCINTOSHYeah, I think it's important not to compare movements, whether it's the Women's Movement, whether it's the Civil Rights Movement or whether it's this movement. Everybody achieving rights and equality have had to go through I think different channels and taken different roads. What is important however, I think for us and the LGBT community to communicate on same-sex marriage, is while we want the right to marry we want the right for a civil marriage. Not a religious marriage, a civil marriage.
MCINTOSHAnd that in fact we so respect the black ministers and many other folks who do not want to perform gay marriages or same-sex marriages that we've written into the law some of the strongest religious protections that we can. We really do believe between -- that there is a difference between church and state and should be.
NNAMDIBut some say that while they're uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage, Matt Comer, that they are okay with civil unions. What's the difference and why is the language of this issue so important?
COMERI think that when you craft a law and you use certain language words have meaning. Words always have meaning. And by setting up two different structures or two different ways that people and couples can go about entering into relationships. You do create a separation. And not to compare movements I agree with the Delegate that we shouldn't necessarily always compare movements. But we have learned in this country before that when you do separate people you automatically say that they're somehow different, you're not including them.
COMERThe constitution doesn't do that. The constitution treats all Americans equally. We are all able to access all of the rights and benefits of citizenship. So to create two different structures is to take one group of people and put them over on your right and take another group of people and put them over on your left. And what will eventually happen is that private companies or local governments, county governments, a civil union may suppose to be treated just like marriage but they'll say it's not marriage because the word marriage isn't used.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, but when we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation on same-sex marriage and the Democratic platform and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. If you live in Maryland, have you decided how you will be voting on the marriage initiative? Are you considering that issue separate from your decision on who to vote for for president? Let us know, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation from Charlotte, N.C. about same-sex marriage and the Democratic Platform. We're talking with Marcus Brandon. He represents Greensboro in the North Carolina House of Representatives. He's also a member of the North Carolina delegation here at the Democratic National Convention. Maggie McIntosh represents Maryland's 43rd District Baltimore City in the Maryland House of Delegates. She too is serving as a Maryland Delegate to the DNC this week. And Matt Comer is the editor of QNotes, an LGBT publication based in Charlotte, N.C.
NNAMDIAnd when we took that break, Matt Comer, we were talking about black voters and you reminded me in the interim of the NAACP support for same-sex marriage.
COMERYeah, you'll have to excuse the pun but the race issue in these amendment battles is not always black and white. I mean, we have had and we continue to see a huge amount of support from progressive civil liberties oriented organizations that are made up primarily of African Americans, including the NAACP. We had wonderful support from Ben Jealous from the national NAACP. And the Reverend William Barber here in North Carolina, who's the president with the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, really went out on the campaign trail in person to meet with people, to speak with people.
COMERHe was the keynote speaker at our statewide LGBT advocacy group's conference before the amendment was put on the ballot. Had wonderful support that way and I think that more and more people of all racial backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds and ages are coming to see that these issues, whether we're talking about marriage or employment nondiscrimination or youth homelessness or even HIV or AIDS issues, really are about making sure that people have access to a life that treats them with dignity and respect.
NNAMDIAnd Delegate McIntosh, of course the NAACP is headquartered in Baltimore. Do you think the organization and its many chapters in the State of Maryland is likely to have any impact in the voting on the initiative come November?
MCINTOSHIt already has. It already has and I thank you for bringing that up because I think the NAACP national endorsement was as powerful in Baltimore and in Maryland as was the president's. And, you know, our own Kweisi Mfume, former congressman from Baltimore led the NAACP for years and was on the platform committee that adopted this language in our Democratic Platform. And so we do have strong support in the African American community, our elected officials -- statewide elected officials and also the many men and women who serve and participate in the NAACP.
NNAMDIKweisi Mfume who once told me that he got into broadcasting because he figured if people could pronounce my name they'd also be able to pronounce his name, as a matter of fact. But Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the first openly gay member of that institution, is retiring after his current term. He recently married saying he wanted to do so while he was still in office because, quoting here, "it's important that my colleagues interact with a married gay man."
NNAMDIHow important is it for you, Marcus Brandon, for you, Maggie McIntosh, to serve as a sort of ambassador on LGBT issues for your legislative colleagues? Marcus Brandon?
BRANDONI think -- and I'm going to have to run after this call. I appreciate the opportunity to -- after this question.
BRANDONBut it has been an amazing journey 'cause I did not run for office intending for this to happen and intending for us to have a marriage amendment my first year there. You know, I fight for education reform and economic development in urban communities but it has been an amazing turnaround to be able to see -- you know, being an ambassador. Because of the fact that I grew up in a family entrenched in the Civil Rights Movement it was really easy to make the transition to be a mouthpiece for the movement. Because, like we said before, it is a civil rights issue.
BRANDONAnd ever since I could walk I've been fighting for civil rights issues. So it was an easy transition to make. I never imagined it to be to the degree that it has been but I've been -- it's been an honor because I love to fight for people that have injustices or are voiceless. So it fit right into the upbringing that my forefathers and my parents have taught me, that we all deserve equal opportunity and we all deserve equal access. And I'm proud to be the ambassador for that voice for anyone.
NNAMDIMarcus Brandon, thank you so much for joining us.
BRANDONThank you so much. Thank you.
NNAMDIMarcus Brandon represents Greensboro in the North Carolina House of Representatives. He's also a member of the North Carolina delegation to the DNC here. Same question to you, Maggie McIntosh. How does -- I mean, how important is it to serve as an ambassador on LGBT issues?
MCINTOSHIt's critical and it has been I think the most honorable thing that I've ever done in my life. I do believe that when my time comes to leave the legislature I will look back on my experience there. And it will be the fact that I came out...
NNAMDIAnd you were a pioneer in that regard in the Maryland legislature.
MCINTOSHYes, I came -- I was.
NNAMDIYou were the first one who actually came out.
MCINTOSHThat's right. First, I was the first openly gay member of the Maryland legislature. Now we have eight openly gay members of the legislature. And in fact, we have one Senator I'm going to call out, Rich Madaleno, who...
NNAMDISure, who's been on this broadcast several times.
MCINTOSHYeah, yeah. He is absolutely I think the reason that we got the marriage bill passed in the Senate. Came over to the House and we have seven openly gay members in the House who took to the floor and really talked to their colleagues from their hearts about what this meant for them. And so I do believe that it has really caused, I think in Maryland, an incredible new acceptance of same-sex marriage that I never dreamed that we would see ten years ago.
NNAMDIRich Madaleno was a staffer in the general assembly at the time when you came out, correct?
MCINTOSHCan I tell you that he was my staffer?
NNAMDISee and he said, if Maggie can do it, I guess I can do it, too.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones now. Here is Andrew in Washington, D.C. Andrew, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWHey, Kojo, thanks for the forum. Really quickly, I feel like I'm one of the only progressive Republicans left on this planet and I think this issue is critically important to the Democratic Platform. I'm not sure if it's going to be one of the big driving forces on the platform, but I think nonetheless extremely important. One of the issues I just wanted to bring up was -- and I think one of the other callers or panelists discussed this -- I think this whole issue is really -- it's been very unfortunate how it's such a religious and state divide.
ANDREWMany people I think who maybe aren't as with a religious background kind of understand the point that this is more of a civil liberties issue. And I think the folks -- you know, and I'm just going to generalize that maybe, you know, more religious in that sense have an issue with this type of platform. So I'll leave it at that for you to discuss.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Care to comment at all, Matt Comer?
COMERWell, I think as someone who has grown up in North Carolina and someone who identifies as a Baptist and a Baptist from the South, I think these issues of faith are very influential. And I think that they are also very important. We are a nation of many, many faiths and many people in this country take their faith very seriously.
COMERAnd so when people do vote for an antigay amendment or when people go out and campaign for an antigay amendment, I think it's best to -- when campaigns are strategizing or when activists are mobilizing, it's best to remember that there are many people who really do have a heartfelt belief that this is their faith. And they're not doing it because they hate you. They're not doing it because they dislike you. It's just what their faith is. And the only thing that can ever change that are conversations. And they're going to be one-on-one conversations.
COMERIn North Carolina, when it came time for our amendments, we -- if we had had more time maybe those one-on-one conversations would've helped to make the difference because in our state, that's what pushed the amendment over was the religious influence.
NNAMDIOn to you, Delegate McIntosh.
MCINTOSHYeah, I'd like to make a comment, not about the caller's religious views but about the fact that he's a Republican and who's calling into this show. And this should not be a Republican or Democrat conversation either. I want to speak directly to those Republicans who are in the listening area, predominantly the Maryland ones. You know, Montgomery County -- we see tremendous support from Republicans in Montgomery County for same-sex marriage and we should see it across the state.
MCINTOSHWe passed the bill in the legislature with some Republican support because they knew it was right to do the right thing for fairness and equality for everyone in Maryland. And so I think we should have a dialogue. I want to have that dialogue with my Republican, not just colleagues but voters in Maryland, about how important it is to treat everyone equally.
NNAMDIOn to Paula in Bladensburg, Md. Paula, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULAThank you so much. Thank you for having me and I'm continuing on this discussion about the religious issue. And with all due respect to the gentleman who just spoke and said he was Southern Baptist and raised that way and we should all, you know, be patient and apologize and feel sorry for people who have religious issues. I also was raised Southern Baptist. I get it. I live in the South, I'm from the South. I'm gay and I just think it's time for, like, a history review lesson that this is a civil rights issue.
PAULAAnd if you look back to the '60s there were many churches in the South, including Southern Baptist churches in various states that used the Bible to justify why it was okay to discriminate against black people. That was preached in the churches. And so it took the federal government to come in and pass the Civil Rights, you know, Act of 1964.
PAULABecause I think that our government then had the wisdom to see if we let these individual states vote on these issues and we let the people from the churches preach that they use a Bible to justify why black people should be second class citizens, it was never going to pass nationally. We were going to have this hodgepodge of, okay, if you're black, you're okay in some states, but oh sorry, you're in Mississippi, sorry for you. You know, we don't like it here in our churches. But it's not about -- it should be a separation of church and state and this is a civil right.
PAULASo I don't feel apologetic or that we need to excuse people because they have certain religious views on this topic. It isn't about religious. It's about having equal rights and I just think people forget the history. And I do think the descent and the opposition is primarily, unfortunately, coming from the African American churches because I think the -- you know, a lot of those Latino people in Maryland and other states, they're Catholic predominantly and they have views also in the church that aren't in favor of gay relationships and marriage. But I don't see them coming out and advocating. They're not the ones circulating the petitions.
PAULAAnd, in fact, to my knowledge, they started that campaign recently the Familias Familia, that they're trying to hook up the immigration issue with gay rights issues. And so I applaud them and I do think it is really primarily from the African-American churches unfortunately. And I do applaud the NAACP. I think it was a courageous stance for them and the president. So to that point, I'm just tired of apologizing for the people that have discriminatory views that collate under religion.
NNAMDIPaula, thank you very much for your call. Delegate McIntosh, given the support of the NAACP and of President Obama, how do you think that is likely to affect the vote in Maryland? And do you think there's likely to be a significant different between the vote in the presidential election and how people vote on same-sex marriage?
MCINTOSHI mean, again, going back to the polling that we have done for the last year and a half in Maryland, I have to tell you that the increase in support for same sex marriage has come from the African American community. That is very important to note. And as a matter of fact, right now today if the vote were held today, the African American community is still very split on the issue. But a year-and-a-half ago only 39 percent of African Americans in the Maryland area supported same-sex marriage. That has grown. It has grown significantly. And so I think, you know, again, I would caution making this a black and white issue. It is not a black and white issue.
MCINTOSHAnd I do think that the NAACP's support and education, I think the president's support and education, the democratic platform's support and education says that this is a civil liberties issue that our party -- my party has always been in the forefront on. Once again, we're in the forefront, and I think at the end of the day you will see more African-American's supporting this than not. And I believe that it's very important to know that this is where we're seeing our support grow, and I am thankful and grateful for it.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have for this part of the conversation. Margaret, or Maggie McIntosh represents Maryland's 43rd District, Baltimore City in the Maryland House of Delegates. She's also serving as a Maryland delegate to the DNC this week. Delegate McIntosh, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd most of all, thank you for bringing your mom with you. We really enjoyed her.
NNAMDIAlso with us, Matt Comer is the editor of QNotes an LGBT publication based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Matt Comer, thank you for joining us.
COMERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, who's paying for the parties and the events here, and exactly how much they're ponying up. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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