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Originally published Monday, September 3, 2012 at 9:05 PM

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State Democratic delegates point to progress on gay marriage

For the first time, the Democratic Party platform is expected to include an endorsement of same-sex marriage — an affirmation that one of America's major political parties believes the Seattle couple deserves the same marriage rights as any other.

Seattle Times political reporter

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — David Kunselman and James Pearson brought their family to the Democratic National Convention to witness a family-values milestone this week.

For the first time, the Democratic Party platform, to be adopted Tuesday, is expected to include an endorsement of same-sex marriage — an affirmation that one of America's major political parties believes the Seattle couple deserves the same marriage rights as any other.

To take in the moment, Kunselman and Pearson, who have been together 14 years, brought along their 3 1/2-year-old son, Jacob, as well as Kunselman's mother from Pennsylvania.

A vow to bring the family was part of Kunselman's pitch to be elected as delegate to the Democratic convention. "That was part of my speech ... I would be bringing my family to show what a real family looks like," he said.

For Kunselman and the other dozen gay and lesbian representatives from Washington state at this week's convention, the North Carolina gathering is a reminder of how far the gay-marriage movement has come — and that much opposition remains.

Voters in North Carolina resoundingly rejected gay marriage with a constitutional amendment earlier this year, leading some gay-rights advocates to call for the Democratic convention to be moved elsewhere.

But the North Carolina result was not unusual — gay marriage has lost every time it's gone to a public vote in any state.

Washington state could break that streak when voters decide in November whether to repeal or retain the gay-marriage law passed by the Legislature in February.

Voters in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota also will vote on measures to legalize or ban gay marriage this fall.

Dean Lynch, a Spokane delegate in Charlotte, said he's amazed at the progress gay-marriage supporters have made in just a few years.

The last time he attended a Democratic convention in 2000, "marriage equality wasn't even on the radar," said Lynch, a former Spokane city councilman and retired state worker.

"We were talking about gays in the military, we were talking about nondiscrimination and bullying. Marriage equality was way, way out there, we sort of joked about it — that someday it would happen in our lifetimes," he said.

"To get to the next step, to have it on the Democratic National Convention platform — that's great," said Lynch, who is attending the convention with Michael Flannery, his partner of 26 years.

After years of saying his views on the subject were "evolving," President Obama cleared the way for the same-sex marriage statement in the Democratic platform when he said in May he believes gay marriage should be legal.

The Democrats' convention in Charlotte will include an array of high-powered fundraisers, parties and panel talks by gay-rights organizations. First lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to stop by a Wednesday luncheon sponsored by several of the groups.

Whether the party's stance on gay marriage helps or hurts Obama's re-election prospects is an open question. Polling has shown voters nationally remain divided on the subject and most are more concerned with the economy.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, has maintained its position as a defender of traditional marriage. At the GOP convention last week in Tampa, Fla., delegates passed a platform reaffirming their support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage "as the union of one man and one woman."

In contrast with its weeklong effort to appeal to ethnic and racial minorities by prominently featuring Latino and African-American speakers, Republicans put no openly gay speakers on stage.

At a breakfast meeting last week, members of Washington state's Republican delegation in Tampa tittered and joked when state GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur rather mockingly held up tickets to a gathering of gay conservatives called "Homocon," held at a local gay bar called The Honeypot.

Still, Republicans seem comparatively sheepish this year about making opposition to gay marriage a signature issue, said Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, a delegate to the Democratic convention, one of six openly gay state legislators.

During the gay-marriage debate in the Legislature this year, Liias said he was told by several GOP lawmakers they couldn't vote for the bill because their constituents opposed it. But some said they'd personally vote to keep the law in November.

"There are a lot more who understand that this is an issue of civil rights, and that 20 years from now history is going to look back on this moment in time and say if you weren't in support of equality you were on the wrong side of history," Liias said.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.

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