Open Zion

09.07.12

Queering the DNC

Given the extraordinary amount of press attention lavished on the Democrats’ exclusion—and then inclusion—of Jerusalem language in their party’s platform, we might be tempted to fall prey to a popular misconception: American Jewish voters vote primarily, if not solely, on Israel issues. After all, why else would the party’s failure to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel cause such an uproar? And why else would Obama resort to the drastic measure of calling a voice vote to insert the Jerusalem language back into the platform? It must be because he really wants the Jewish vote, and Jewish voters really only care about Israel, right? Wrong.

As this year’s DNC makes clear, the Democrats’ support for Israel isn’t the only thing inspiring Obama love in Jewish voters: the President’s stance on gay rights (including marriage equality, as of this election cycle) plays an important role, too. In fact, as the New York Times reported yesterday, queer voters have “catapulted to the forefront of the Democratic convention,” enjoying an unprecedented level of visibility, recognition, and support. Frequently present on the stage, queer Democrats have been mentioned both in the platform and in practically every speech, including one by Michelle Obama. And many of those queer Democrats happen to be Jewish.

I say “happen to be Jewish,” but that’s not exactly right. The link between these voters’ Jewishness, queerness, and Democratic leanings is not coincidental.

According to a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, 81% of American Jews support gay marriage. (That’s far higher than the numbers for the general American population, which is split about 50-50.) These numbers may be striking, but they’re not shocking, especially when we remember that gay rights are intimately bound up with social equality, and social equality is a longstanding, central value of both the Democratic party and American Jews. In fact, when asked which values are most important to their Jewish identity, 46% of American Jews cite a commitment to social equality; less than half as many cite support for Israel. And when asked which issues are most important to them vis-à-vis the upcoming election, only 4% of Jewish voters cite support for the Jewish state.

As it turns out, human rights—which, as Hillary Clinton movingly pointed out in Geneva last December, includes gay rights—are uppermost in the minds of Jewish voters, not Israel. So even if Obama were to lose a bit of Jewish enthusiasm over his stance on Israel, it would pale in comparison to the Jewish props he’d get over his stance on gay rights.

In this light, the higher profile of queer Jewish Democrats at this year’s DNC makes perfect sense. After all, never before has there been a U.S. political party so willing to address and validate this group’s unique constellation of concerns. As lesbian rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum told Tablet the other day, “This is the first time in American history that a political party representing someone who is President of the United States has said that they recognize gay people as full and equal human beings. It’s thrilling.” I couldn’t agree more.