By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP)--Abortion and homosexual rights, topics barely addressed at the Republican Party's national convention, gained the spotlight frequently at the Democratic convention.
Not only did the Democratic platform endorse the right to abortion and civil rights based on homosexual behavior, but speakers -- including Vice President Al Gore, the party's presidential nominee -- spoke out for both from the platform during the four-day meeting at Los Angeles.
During his acceptance speech on the final night, Gore reiterated his intention to maintain abortion rights, including a signal he would nominate pro-choice justices to fill any vacancy on the Supreme Court.
"And let there be no doubt, I will protect and defend a woman's right to choose," Gore said. "The last thing this country needs is a Supreme Court that overturns Roe v. Wade."
Roe v. Wade is the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion.
On the issue of homosexuality, he made clear his plan to enact the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would add "sexual orientation" to the list of categories protected by workplace civil rights laws. Gore also endorsed legislation that would expand hate-crimes laws to include "sexual orientation."
His speech came one night after his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, also called for widening civil rights laws to incorporate "sexual orientation," a classification that includes homosexuality and bisexuality.
In their platform, Democrats endorsed not only the right to abortion but the right of poor women to use government funding to pay for abortion. They also acknowledged there are members of the party who hold a different view on the issue.
Republicans supported in their platform an amendment to the Constitution to protect unborn human life. In his speech, Republican nominee George W. Bush called for protection for the unborn and said he would sign a bill banning partial-birth abortion, but the issue otherwise was dormant at the GOP meeting. The partial-birth procedure involves the almost total delivery of a child normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy before a doctor stabs him with scissors and suctions out the brain. President Clinton twice has vetoed a ban on the technique.
On the first night of the Democratic meeting, a convention cochairperson, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, called the right to abortion a "huge issue" in this year's campaign.
The next night, Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, spoke from the platform, describing the right to choose abortion as "just as fundamental as the rights to speak, worship and vote."
"A woman's right to choose took a century to win but could be lost in only one day -- election day," Michelman said, according to a transcript provided by NARAL. "That's why we must elect Al Gore and Joe Lieberman."
Michelman's appearance "made it clear that Al Gore and the national Democratic Party think it is smart politics to be aggressively pro-abortion," said Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee, in a written release.
The convention, held Aug. 14-17, endorsed homosexual rights explicitly and symbolically. Its platform supported ENDA and the "full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation," including "an equitable alignment of benefits."
The GOP platform, meanwhile, endorsed defining marriage as only the legal union of a man and a woman, and did not advocate civil rights based on homosexuality. The only prominence of the issue at the Republican convention came when openly homosexual Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona spoke, but he did not endorse homosexual rights from the platform.
A series of openly homosexual speakers addressed the Democratic convention, according to The Washington Blade, a weekly newspaper for the homosexual community in the capital. Among them was Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest homosexual political organization. Birch spoke in prime time August 15.
Non-homosexual speakers who endorsed homosexual rights from the platform included losing presidential candidate Bill Bradley, California Gov. Gray Davis and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, The Blade reported.
In addition, openly lesbian rock singer Melissa Etheridge sang the national anthem on the convention's opening night.
Commenting on the Democratic meeting, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, "Sometimes there are moments that come to symbolize a person or a party or a place, and I think we had a few of those moments during the Democratic convention.
"One was Senate candidate Hillary Clinton's speech on Monday night in which she said this election was most important to the littlest among us. She was right but not in the sense that she intended. She meant children, and I mean unborn children," Land said.
"It was clear in virtually every session of the Democratic National Convention that Mrs. Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and her party are hard-wired to the radical pro-abortion agenda, even to the point of opposing the ban on aborting partially born babies. The choice is clear. If Mrs. Clinton and her party prevail in the fall elections, the killing of approximately three unborn or partially born babies a minute will continue unabated. Each person must be prepared to make his or her choice and then live with the consequences. Of course, unborn and partially born Americans may die from the consequences."
Another "defining moment," Land said, occurred on the last night of the convention when a half-dozen Eagle scouts participating in the opening ceremony were booed by some delegates, according to The Washington Times. Some delegates also held up signs saying, "We Support Gay Boy Scouts," the Times reported. The Boy Scouts are targets of protest from pro-homosexual organizations and individuals because of a policy prohibiting homosexual troop leaders. The Supreme Court upheld in a June decision the Boy Scouts' right as a private organization to determine its leadership.
"Of course, we're not against the kids -- it isn't about them," California delegate Craig Christensen told The Times. "But there were groups that could have been picked that haven't been so blatantly discriminatory. ... It was a thoughtless thing to do."
Land said, "They booed and wanted to exclude the Scouts for daring to defend their constitutional right not to have homosexual Scoutmasters. Maybe the Boy Scouts need to create a new merit badge, the boo badge, for having stood up for your convictions at Democratic national conventions."
Of the 4,370 Democratic delegates, 212 were openly homosexual, according to The Blade. In 1996, there were 125 open homosexuals among the delegates, The Times reported.
Delegates credited the Democratic National Committee for the increase, saying the DNC directed state parties to seek to reflect their states' minority makeup in their delegations, according to The Times. This meant some states had to establish targets or quotas for certain groups, delegates said, according to The Times.
In its platform, the Democratic Party also called for the entertainment industry to "accept more responsibility and exercise more self-restraint" by examining and enforcing its movie ratings and by looking at violence in its advertising.
Baptist Press. Used with permission.