Landslide win for LGBT equality

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Tammy Baldwin at her victory party. - PHOTO: TAMMY BALDWIN WI

LGBT leaders rushed forward to cheer milestones and mandates after voters delivered a series of victories at the ballot box on Nov. 6.

There was swift, exuberant reaction to the re-election of Barack Obama, the first U.S. president to endorse legalizing same-sex marriage and to take action to overturn a federal law prohibiting recognition of such marriages.

There was swift, blissful reaction to the election of the Tammy Baldwin, the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator, who also is Wisconsin’s first female U.S. Senator.

There was swift, elated reaction to the election of other out candidates for office – a record number of LGBT people ran for elected office, including a record number bound for the U.S. Capitol.

And there was swift, merry reaction to the defeat of an anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota, the approval of legalized same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington.

“It’s an equality landslide!” trumpeted Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “The dreams of millions of fair-minded people were realized today as discrimination crumbled at the ballot box and equality prevailed.”

The president’s re-election

Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden return to the White House for another four years after a contentious general election campaign against Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Romney and Ryan became the nominees after a hard-fought primary in which the courting of the Christian right likely alienated moderate voters in the party.

In his concession speech, Romney urged America beyond “partisan bickering and political posturing.”

He said, “We look to our teachers and professors, we count on you not just to teach, but to inspire our children with a passion for learning and discovery. We look to our pastors and priests and rabbis and counselors of all kinds to testify of the enduring principles upon which our society is built: honesty, charity, integrity and family. We look to our parents, for in the final analysis everything depends on the success of our homes. We look to job creators of all kinds. We’re counting on you to invest, to hire, to step forward. And we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.”

In his victory speech at Chicago’s McCormick Place early Nov. 7, Obama also talked about a united United States.

He said, “I believe we can keep the promise of our founding -- the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or where you love -- it doesn’t matter whether you're black or white, or Hispanic or Asian, or Native American, or young or old, or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight – you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try."

Obama, according to one survey, enjoyed about 77 percent of the LGBT vote in the general election – up seven points from 2008. Another survey showed the president’s support among LGBT voters at 90 percent.

LGBT voters’ presence at the polls also increased from 4 percent in 2008 to 5 percent in 2012, according to exit polling data.

“Our community has flexed our political muscle,” Griffin said.

He and others also observed that LGBT allies helped deliver the first victories on same-sex marriage in popular votes.

“National polls have consistently shown majority support for the freedom to marry, and now voters have proven it for the first time at the ballot box,” said Stuart Gaffney of Marriage Equality USA.

‘I do’ gains popularity

In Maine, early and unofficial results showed that a majority of voters supported legalizing same-sex marriage after a majority of them repealed such a measure just a few years ago.

Matt McTighe, manager of Yes on 1, Mainers United for Marriage, said, “We proved that voters can change their hearts and minds if we tell our stories and give our fellow citizens a personal connection to the countless families whose lives are impacted by this debate.”

“Winning marriage in Maine is profoundly important to those of us living here, including me and my family,” said Mary L. Bonauto of Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the group largely responsible for gay marriage victories in New England courts. “We can expect to see an outbreak of happiness, as couples – whether together for months or decades – can finally make that commitment to one another. I am very proud of Mainers for sharing their concerns, hearing our stories and finding the common ground to vote yes.”

Same-sex couples can begin marrying in the state 30 days after the governor proclaims the election results, which should come about 10 days after the results are certified by the secretary of state.

In Maryland, with the support of the state Democratic leadership, the NAACP and other partners in the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition, voters also approved legalizing same-sex marriage.

The vote was leaning toward legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state late Nov. 6 but victory was not declared until mid-day on Nov. 7.

“The outpouring of support for our marriage law has been absolutely incredible – astounding, really,” said Zach Silk,
campaign manager
for Washington United for Marriage.

Same-sex marriage is legal in six other states and the District of Columbia, as well as in 11 countries.

In Minnesota, voters delivered a victory for equality, but they didn’t legalize same-sex marriage. Instead, they voted to defeat a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“Minnesota is a prime example that we are experiencing a sea change in how Americans view their LGBT neighbors,” Griffin said. “With 30 states having voted to write discrimination into their constitutions, Minnesotans stood up and said, ‘not us,’ and more are sure to follow their lead.”

Richard Carlbom of Minnesotans United for all Families said, “Tonight Minnesota proved that love is bigger than government. Minnesota has become the first state in the nation to beat back a freedom-limiting amendment like this.”

Some LGBT activists in the state speculated that the majority opposition to the amendment that followed an expensive and persuasive equality campaign created a tight race for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. Congress’ most ardent anti-gay member squeaked by in her re-election race against Democrat Jim Graves.

Meanwhile, voters decided to send at least four – and possibly six – out candidates to the U.S. House and one out candidate, Baldwin, to the U.S. Senate.

Out candidates, in offices

Baldwin defeated former Gov. Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, a swing state that turned blue surprisingly early on election night.

Thanking voters after the win, Baldwin said, “I didn’t run for the Senate just to win an election – I ran to make a difference. And just because the election’s over doesn’t mean I won’t still need you by my side going forward. We have work to do to rebuild our middle class and give the people the voice they deserve in Washington.”

Jerame Davis of the National Stonewall Democrats reacted to the victory: “I am ecstatic to say the words ‘Senator Tammy Baldwin’ out loud. This is a big win for LGBT Americans and a solid victory for the citizens of Wisconsin.”

Democrat Mark Pocan celebrated at the same hotel as Baldwin. The openly gay state representative is headed to the U.S. House to take Baldwin’s seat.

Chuck Wolfe of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund cheered his win: “Mark is an outstanding public servant and he will be a fantastic member of Congress. Nobody is better suited to follow in Tammy Baldwin’s footsteps in the House.  He’s a fighter, and he’ll be a strong voice for LGBT equality.”

In Colorado, voters returned openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D, to office and, in Rhode Island, they re-elected openly gay U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D.

In New York, openly gay candidate Sean Patrick Maloney, D, defeated incumbent Nan Hayworth.

In California, openly gay candidate Mark Takano, D, seemed poised to defeat John Tavaglione for a congressional seat.

In Arizona, openly bisexual candidate Kyrsten Sinema, D, was ahead but the congressional race still was too close to call early Nov. 7.

In the loss column, openly gay candidate Richard Tisei, R, lost his race to represent Massachusetts in Congress and Nicole LeFavour, D, lost her bid in Idaho.