Flashback 2012: Biggest national LGBT stories

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Barack Obama won a second term on Nov. 6. - PHOTO: Courtesy

WiG’s picks for the top national LGBT stories of 2012 include:

Marriage marches on

Wedding marches played out in Maryland, Maine and Washington, with unprecedented voter support for marriage equality in all three states. Support for was widespread – primarily from women but also from Hispanic, African-American and Catholic constituencies.

Voters also defeated a proposed constitutional amendment against gay marriage in Minnesota. But in North Carolina in May, voters approved a similar amendment and there was a loss in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie, with eyes on the White House prize in 2016, vetoed an equality bill.

FLASHBACK: The year began with ho-hum celebrations of civil unions in Hawaii and Delaware and announcements that lawmakers in Washington and Maryland would be pushing for marriage equality.

In February, a marriage bill was passed in Washington and opponents quickly organized to bring the matter to a vote in the general election. The same path would be followed in Maryland.

In April, the National Organization for Marriage, a leading opponent of gay marriage, suffered a setback when documents revealed a secret “divide and conquer” campaign aimed at driving “a wedge between gays and blacks – two key Democratic constituencies.”

On May 8, voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment against legally recognizing same-sex couples and activists worried about the ballot campaigns ahead.

But that month instead brought a tectonic shift on the issue. President Barack Obama endorsed marriage equality on May 9 and civil rights leaders in the African-American and Hispanic communities made legalizing gay marriage a priority.

An NAACP resolution stated, “The NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the constitutional rights of LGBT citizens. We support marriage equality consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The NOM campaign seemed to have failed. In November, with the ballot measure votes, the failure was proven.

By early December, same-sex weddings were taking place in Washington, with ceremonies to soon follow in Maryland and Maine.

Ballot box wins

Democratic President Barack Obama defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney in an explosive battle for the White House. The Nov. 6 general election also brought a record number of LGBT candidates into elected office and more than a year of campaigning demonstrated the Democratic Party’s solid support for equality. The same can’t be said of the GOP.

FLASHBACK: Through the winter and spring, Republicans worked at nominating the candidate to challenge Obama for the White House. It seemed a process of elimination rather than selection. By June, the presumptive nominee was Mitt Romney, who in August selected as his running mate Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who brought a nearly unblemished right-wing record to appeal to conservatives who doubted Romney’s conversion.

Meanwhile, through the first half of the year, Democrats worked at building up the party base, including warming up LGBT voters. Party chapters at the local and state levels embraced LGBT civil rights policies. Democratic mayors – from cities large and small – endorsed marriage equality, and Democratic governors in Washington state and Maryland signed marriage equality bills.

Then, in May, came the big endorsement after several years of “evolution.” Obama became the first sitting president to publicly back marriage equality, telling a “Good Morning America” audience: “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

In September, record numbers of LGBT delegates attended the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., and witnessed an unparalleled embrace of equal rights.

In November, LGBT candidates ran and won in record numbers, among them Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, who will be sworn in as a U.S. Senator on Jan. 3, and Mark Pocan, who will succeed Baldwin in the U.S. House.

The morning after the Nov. 6 election, Human Rights Campaign director Chad Griffin said, “It’s an equality landslide. When the history books are written, 2012 will be remembered as the year when LGBT Americans won decisively at the ballot box.”

War on women

Decades after the pill ceased to be controversial, conservative Republicans reintroduced birth control as a political issue. Right-wing politicians in the party assaulted women’s reproductive rights with new legislation and efforts to eliminate funding for vital women’s health programs. Occasionally, they tripped over their own live wires.

FLASHBACK: In early February, women’s rights advocates saw red. Their furor was stoked by a decision at Susan G. Komen for the Cure to defund cancer prevention programs at Planned Parenthood clinics. The intense scrutiny that followed Komen’s announcement led to reports that the breast-cancer nonprofit also withheld funds for programs affiliated with stem-cell research. And the widespread protests that followed led to Komen reversing its decision and the resignation of right-winger Karen Handel, Komen’s VP for public policy.

The war raged on through the spring and summer, with state and federal politicians – as well as high-profile pundits – rifling through the Republican arsenal:

• U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt proposed that an employer rather than a doctor should decide what type of health care should be available to women.

• U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa convened an all-male panel to discuss contraceptive coverage and refused to hear the testimony of any women.

• Radio personality Rush Limbaugh called a 30-year-old female law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she spoke in favor of birth control coverage in health care plans.

• Gov. Rick Perry led a campaign to defund Planned Parenthood in the Lone Star State, forcing the closure of clinics that provided vital health services to low-income women, including cancer screenings.

• Virginia Republicans pushed a bill to require that women undergo a medically unnecessary procedure, a transvaginal ultrasound, before getting an abortion. The measure was amended to require an abdominal ultrasound instead and signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

• Missouri Rep. Todd Akin was the first of several Republican men – Paul Ryan was another – to reveal caveman notions about rape in an attempt to justify their opposition to women’s reproductive rights.

The Guttmacher Institute, a health think tank, estimated that 430 abortion restrictions were introduced in legislatures in 2012, including in Wisconsin.

“The level and scope of activity on abortion and family planning is completely unparalleled to anything we have seen before,” Guttmacher’s Elizabeth Nash said in November.

Health and welfare

The U.S. Supreme Court, to the surprise of many, upheld the U.S. Affordable Care Act, known both affectionately and derisively as Obamacare. Almost immediately, work began to implement the federal law in some states and resist it in others, including Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the Obama administration called for a campaign to create an AIDS-free generation and the United States hosted the first world AIDS conference in years.

FLASHBACK: In March, arguments on Obamacare took place before the Supreme Court over two days, with protesters on both sides of the issue assembled on the steps of the court.

Then the waiting began, as if the nation were stuck in the lobby of an ER.

On June 28, in a 5-4 opinion, the court upheld much of the comprehensive legislation, including the individual mandate. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

Reacting, Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, “This ruling is a victory for millions of people and families across the country who have suffered significant health and financial turmoil because of a lack of access to adequate, affordable health care.”

Days later, the AIDS Memorial Quilt – a testament to the lives of more than 600,000 Americans who’ve died of HIV-related causes – returned to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where it was first shown in 1987.

And, in late July, the 19th International AIDS Conference opened in Washington, D.C., returning to the United States for the first time since 1990.

Both events seemed monumental in a year in which the Obama administration offered its strategy for an AIDS-free generation.

“I think we are at a turning point,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health’s infectious disease chief.

Supreme justice?

Victory followed victory in the federal courts, where district and appeals court judges considered cases challenging the constitutionality of laws barring marriage equality at the state and federal levels. The decisions piled up at the U.S. Supreme Court, where, at the end of the year, the justices agreed to hear at least two.

FLASHBACK: In February, a federal appeals court in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8, the amendment barring same-sex marriage in California.

The spring brought multiple rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act, with the challenges clearly bound for the U.S. Supreme Court. “The momentum for the freedom to marry seems unstoppable,” said Stuart Gaffney of Marriage Equality USA.

In December, the Supreme Court put two cases – the Prop 8 challenge and a DOMA challenge brought by a widow – on its docket for 2013, with arguments expected in the spring and decisions expected in late June.

“The moment we have been fighting for has finally arrived,” said Adam Umhoefer, the executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization behind the legal challenge to Prop 8.

More Flashback stories: www.wisconsingazette.com