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Gay support for Kerry on display at convention

Same-sex marriage issue on back burner for many delegates

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Delegate Emily Falcon of Delaware says Sen. John Kerry has a better record on gay rights than President Bush.
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Day Four: Thursday

• Theme: "Stronger at Home, Respected in the World"

• 4 p.m. ET: Session opens

• 7-9:45 p.m. ET: Speakers include Madeleine Albright, Joe Biden, Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman, Nancy Pelosi and Carole King performing "You've Got a Friend"

• 9:45 p.m. ET: Family members of John Kerry speak -- Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry, Chris and Andre Heinz

• 10 p.m. ET: Veterans of Kerry's crew in Vietnam speak, followed by Sen. Max Cleland's introduction of Kerry

• 10:30 p.m. ET: John Kerry delivers his address in acceptance of the Democratic presidential nomination
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America Votes 2004
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BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- At 26, Emily Falcon is the youngest member of the Delaware delegation. She is also its first openly gay delegate. And she couldn't be clearer about her support of Sen. John Kerry for president.

"We are going to be included in this administration," Falcon said. "We are going to be respected and treated as human beings." (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the Democratic convention)

Her support -- and that of hundreds of openly gay delegates and alternates attending the convention -- comes despite Kerry's opposition to same-sex marriage.

That issue has special resonance in Massachusetts, where same-sex couples began marrying in May, following a state court ruling that opened the door to such unions. The legal and legislative action in Massachusetts, along with a similar battle in San Francisco, California, placed the issue of same-sex marriage front and center in the political arena.

While Kerry has said he opposes President Bush's proposal to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, he has also said he believes that marriage should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman.

But Kerry also voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricted the federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples. Kerry said he voted against that bill because it struck him as "gay bashing."

Several gay delegates said they're disappointed that Kerry opposes same-sex marriages but described themselves as motivated by more than a single issue.

"Sen. Kerry and I don't see eye to eye on the marriage issue," said Neil Sims, a delegate from San Francisco. "But Sen. Kerry has made it clear ... that's he's absolutely committed to parity when it comes to the citizens of the United States."

By that, Sims and other gay delegates said they take comfort in Kerry's voting record in the Senate, where he has a solid record of supporting civil rights initiatives, and his stated belief that gays and lesbians should have the same legal and health benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

Democratic officials report that 3.9 percent of the delegates and alternates describe themselves as gay or lesbian. And there is ample evidence of gay support for Kerry here, where colorful "gay pride" banners waved when Cheryl Jacques, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, addressed the convention.

Teresa Heinz Kerry has also helped the Democratic ticket to score points in the gay community. Speaking Wednesday before the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transsexual Caucus, Heinz Kerry wowed the crowd with her declaration that there would be a "a mom in the White House who loves you."

When the audience gave her a standing ovation, she declared, "You can call me Mama T anytime." That prompted chants of "Mama T."

While prominent Democratic political leaders have avoided a discussion of same-sex marriage in their convention speeches, several have voiced general support for gay rights.

The 2004 Democratic Party platform calls for the "full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation." The platform also repudiates Bush's proposed constitutional amendment, which recently failed in the Senate on a procedural vote, and said the definition of marriage should be left to the states.

Bush's proposal struck a nerve here with many gay delegates, who said it was reason enough to vote for Kerry.

"With John Kerry, we're in a better place to start and make progress than where Bush is on the issue," Falcon said.

"Is John Kerry everything I could hope for in a presidential candidate on gay rights? No. But I'm not going to elect a candidate just on gay rights."

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