Gay Rights
The LBGT flag. Reuters

More than a dozen speakers mentioned LGBT equality during the first two nights of the Democratic National Convention as, for the first time ever, Democrats increasingly view the hot-button issue as a political winner.

That trend only accelerated on Thursday night. The last night of the convention features multiple openly gay speakers with prime-time billing -- and this, only months after President Barack Obama was essentially forced to endorse marriage equality after Vice President Joe Biden accidentally (or not) let it slip that he believed same-sex couples should be able to marry.

It makes sense. The Democrats are moving along with public opinion: A recent Harris Interactive poll found 52 percent of likely voters support marriage equality, including 70 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans. And that wasn't a fluke -- a May Gallup poll also found that exactly half of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by law, including 22 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independent voters.

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts may have been the most high-profile gay speaker on stage this week, but he spent most of his speech -- scheduled for the 5 p.m. hour -- assailing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's policies while he was governor of Massachusetts.

And Frank, the first gay member of Congress to marry his partner, was followed by Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. Baldwin is attempting to become the first openly gay senator in the nation and is currently engaged in a tough campaign against former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican.

During her own address Baldwin -- in between discussing her own attempts to pass financial reform legislation -- only referenced her sexual orientation in passing, declaring that Obama repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule "so no American ever again has to lie about who they are to serve the country we love."

Zach Wahls, the 21-year Iowan who became a YouTube sensation after a rousing speech he gave defending his two mothers went viral, also addressed the crowd. After joking about what life is like with lesbians as mothers ("I'm great at putting the seat down!") Wahls described the conflicted feelings he experienced while watching Republican politicians frame same-sex marriage as a threat to American values during the party's 2004 convention.

"I felt confused, frustrated. Why didn't they think my family was a real family?" Wahls asked, before praising Obama for speaking out on the issue. "President Obama put his political future on the line to do what is right. President Obama is fighting for our families -- all of our families. He has our backs. And ladies and gentleman: We have his!"

The prominent role the LGBT community is playing this year is a striking contrast with last week's Republican convention, which ratified a platform officially disavowing same-sex marriage. It also demonstrates how far the Democratic Party itself has evolved on the issue; after all, it was Bill Clinton -- now a staunch supporter of gay rights -- who signed the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The party's embrace of gay equality at the DNC comes a week after Biden thanked gay rights advocates in Provincetown, Mass., for "freeing the soul of the American people." Even Michelle Obama, in her much lauded speech on Monday night, took the time to define marriage equality as an ingredient for American greatness, saying "If proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely, surely, we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American dream."

Obama pushed to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule a year ago and in May, the president officially endorsed same-sex marriage after years of "evolving" on the issue.