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Platform supporting gay marriage, equal benefits draws cheers

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Heather Jenkins said it doesn’t matter where she is in the world; her marriage to another woman is real and about love.

“This is a real relationship just as if my parents were married,” the Phoenix resident said.

As a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Jenkins is cheering the first party platform to support gay marriage and equal benefits for same-sex couples.

“We hope that this platform will appeal to the better nature of people,” said Jenkins, one of 11 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community among Arizona’s delegation.

Jenkins married her wife, Janina Aponte Jenkins, last January in New York, a state that recognizes gay marriage. But when the couple arrived back home to Arizona, they entered a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage.

“Let’s get out of the dark ages of race and gender and move forward,” Aponte Jenkins said.

Delegate Erik Lundstrom, a University of Arizona student and president of Young Democrats of Arizona, said he’s glad that the LGBT community now has an army of “straight allies.”

“To have the entire platform committee come up in support is heartwarming,” he said.

The platform also calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that recognizes only heterosexual marriages. The party’s pro-gay stance contrasts with the GOP platform and an Arizona state law barring gay marriage.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to deny same-sex partners of state and university employees equal benefits. A state law struck down those benefits, made possible under an executive order by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, but was blocked by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, responded in July to Brewer’s appeal by praising the city’s policy of providing domestic partner benefits to employees. At an Arizona delegation breakfast Tuesday, he lauded the Democratic platform’s pro-gay stance and said it’s time to put an end to stereotypes about Arizona.

“People view Arizona as a state that doesn’t embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” he said. “[But] we love diversity in our state.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said he attended his first gay wedding in 1972 in Miami, Fla.

“Forty years of a struggle for gay marriage and we’re there,” he said at the delegation breakfast.

Jenkins, who said she’s proud to be an Arizona delegate representing LGBT issues, said the plank is a step in the right direction.

“I hope people open their hearts and listen,” she said. “[The plank] is the beginning of a great relationship and the beginning of a conversation.”

She said she fell in love with her wife the moment she saw her, but never thought she could land someone so beautiful.

“I’m a nerd, so you know the ‘it girl’, the pretty girl, they don’t talk to you,” she said.