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Originally published Sunday, September 2, 2012 at 7:46 PM

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Democrats plan big symbolic step on same-sex marriage

The Democratic Party will make history Tuesday when it is expected to be the first major party to endorse same-sex marriage in its platform.

San Francisco Chronicle

Democratic convention lineup

Speakers and events from 7:30-11 nightly:

Tuesday

Michelle Obama, first lady; Jimmy Carter, former president (via video); Julian Castro, San Antonio mayor

Wednesday

Bill Clinton, former president; Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts candidate for U.S. Senate and former financial regulator

Thursday

Joseph Biden, vice president; Barack Obama, president

Also speaking (dates and times not available for all speakers): Cory Booker, Newark mayor; James Clyburn, congressman from South Carolina; Charlie Crist, former Republican governor of Florida; Rahm Emanuel, Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff; Sandra Fluke, Georgetown Law graduate and abortion-rights activist; Anthony Foxx, Charlotte mayor; Barney Frank, congressman from Massachusetts; Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan; John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor; Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America; John Kerry, senator from Massachusetts; Lilly Ledbetter, women's rights activist; Nancy Pelosi, House minority leader; Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles mayor and Democratic convention chair.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Eight years after California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the push for legalizing same-sex marriage was "too much, too fast, too soon," the Democratic Party will make history Tuesday when it is expected to be the first major party to endorse same-sex marriage in its platform.

While the plank packs no legal power, it marks a cultural milestone.

"Another important societal cue that things are shifting," said Amy Simon, a California pollster who is working for advocates who want to legalize gay marriage in Maine and Washington. "As people are working through their conflicting feelings on this, they're looking for cues, and this is another one."

The platform declaration could spark political blowback, and one of the nation's leading opponents of same-sex marriage already is trying to make it an issue in pivotal swing states that have passed laws codifying marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

"By doing this, the Democratic Party is basically telling voters in places like North Carolina and Florida that they're a bunch of bigots," said Sacramento, Calif., consultant Frank Schubert, the strategist behind California's Proposition 8 and similar campaigns to bar gay unions in four states where marriage is on the ballot in November. The National Organization for Marriage began airing radio ads last week in North Carolina, targeting religious African Americans.

But analysts and pollsters say the issue is unlikely to be as volatile or powerful as it was in 2004, when 11 states put same-sex-marriage bans on their ballots after then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom approved issuing wedding licenses to gay couples. Public support has grown since then, and now an average of 50 percent of Americans support it, according to the most recent polls.

Support in the polls, however, has not translated into support at the ballot box. Voters have denied granting same-sex-marriage rights 32 times when the issue was put before them. Maryland and Minnesota voters will decide the question this fall, along with Washington and Maine.

On Tuesday in Charlotte, delegates to the convention are also expected to support overturning the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — signed by Wednesday night's keynote speaker, then-President Clinton — which recognizes marriage only as between a man and a woman.

Democrats are trying to placate those with religious concerns: "We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference," a draft of the platform-language states.

The platform marks a significant change from just four years ago, when the party stopped short of endorsing gay nuptials, not wanting to contradict the stance of its nominee, then-Sen. Barack Obama. Obama said his views on the subject were "evolving."

Activists were so frustrated with Obama's position that some wore buttons saying "Evolve Already" at a White House reception last year for gay community leaders.

When Obama expressed his full support for gay marriage in May, "that was a defining moment," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a member of the party's platform committee. "It was a very clear political position that he supported marriage."

Tuesday's adoption of the platform, she said, "is a testament to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, which would not give up."

As the Democrats prepared to endorse same-sex marriage, Republicans hardened their opposition to it at their convention in Tampa last week.

In the platform approved at the GOP convention, Republicans vowed to uphold marriage between a man and a woman "as the national standard," and promote it "through laws governing marriage."

The GOP also cast the issue in economic terms, saying "the future of marriage affects freedom. The lack of family formation not only leads to more government costs, but also to more government control over the lives of its citizens in all aspects."

When Margaret Hoover, a GOP strategist and CNN commentator, tried to get her party to soften its platform, National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown described her position as "seditious" in a blog post Friday, deriding gay-marriage supporters as "Margaret Hoover Republicans."

"This position really hurts the party with millennial-generation voters," Hoover said. "It helps codify feelings among younger voters, particularly, that the party is out of touch."

Hoover has helped to raise $1.8 million for American Unity PAC, which will support three pro-gay rights Republicans this fall.

GOP nominee Mitt Romney's position on same-sex marriage has evolved in the opposite direction of Obama's.

In 1994, when Romney was running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts against the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, he sought the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian GOP group.

In a letter he wrote to the state chapter, Romney pitched his gay-friendly credentials: "I am more convinced than ever before that as we seek to establish full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent.

"If we are to achieve the goals we share, we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern. My opponent cannot do this. I can and will."

Now, Romney supports marriage only between a man and a woman, in tune with his party's platform.

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