(CNN) – Same-sex marriage could become a nettlesome issue for Democrats this election year. On Wednesday the Chair of the Democratic Convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said he believes same-sex marriage should be included in the Democratic Party platform but the Obama campaign is trying to put the issue off to another day.
Democrats are divided over how to handle same-sex marriage at the Democratic convention. Six states plus the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage, and some Democratic activists are pushing for its inclusion in the party platform. But the president has not come out in support of same-sex marriage and has said his position on the issue is "evolving."
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Convention Chair Villaraigosa brought the party debate into public view during a Washington DC event when Politico's Mike Allen asked if be believes the Democratic Convention should include a marriage equality plank. "I do," Villaraigosa replied, "We want to make this the most accessible convention possible. This just isn't going to be open to a small group of people. On two of the four days there will be an opportunity for a much larger representation of people from all over the country to participate in our convention. The delegates will make the decision on the platform but I do support it and certainly have for a long time."
"We're a big tent party," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters during a conference call shortly after Villaraigosa made the remarks, but he skirted a question about embracing same-sex marriage as the party's position.
"There's not even a delegate platform committee yet," he reminded reporters. "There's a process to go through this discussion, and the DNC will go through that and we will have a platform."
He used the opening to argue the president has advocated for gay and lesbian rights saying, "our record stands in sharp contrast to the other side and what they other side has said is that they want a constitutional amendment on anti-marriage. They want to put back into place Don't Ask Don't Tell and a bunch of other regressive policies."
The president's campaign is counting on wealthy gay donors to help fuel their fundraising drive. Gay and lesbian donors contributed nearly $1.5 million at just one recent fundraiser. During that event, the president seemed to hint he's prepared to do more for this constituency in a second term but wouldn't specify if that means supporting a federal law for same-sex marriage.
"We're going to have more work to do on this issue, as is true on a lot of other issues. There's still areas where fairness is not the rule,” he told the crowd of gay and lesbian donors in Washington, D.C. on February 9th. "And we're going to have to keep on pushing in the same way - persistently, politely, listening to folks who don't always agree with us, but sticking to our guns in terms of what our values are all about. What American values are all about."
During a New York City event in May of last year, he also left it to the crowd to deduce his intentions. He told the audience, "I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country."
When someone in the audience shouted "marriage," the president replied "I heard you" but didn't elaborate.
It would be hard not to imagine a measure of the campaign's caution on this issue comes from their concern about appealing to socially-conservative swing voters in an election year.
But many gay and lesbian activists aren't in the mood to be political or patient on the issue. One group pressing for the president's self-described evolution to speed up is called Freedom to Marry. They've gathered support from nearly two dozen Democratic U.S. senators for inclusion of same-sex marriage language in the Democratic Party's platform at the convention.