HAILED as a watershed in the GLBT rights movement, last November’s election produced some results that could have a profound impact on the advancement of GLBT equality. Here are five take-aways from an election that saw wins for marriage equality at the ballot and the election of an openly gay U.S. Senate candidate, not to mention the re-election of a U.S. president who endorsed marriage equality.
1. The sky’s the limit for gay candidates seeking political office. Tammy Baldwin made history when she became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate in a highly competitive race against former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. She’ll be part of a record number of GLBT candidates who were elected to the U.S. Congress. Baldwin’s sexual orientation was virtually a non-issue during the campaign. The only time it came up was when Brian Nemoir, a Thompson campaign official, circulated a video of Baldwin dancing at a gay pride festival. The incident resulted in negative press for Thompson, who apologized for his aide’s action. The glass ceiling broken by Baldwin could be a hopeful sign for other GLBT officials seeking office—such as lesbian New York City Council Chair Christine Quinn, who’s likely to run for mayor of the nation’s largest city in 2013.
Some barriers have yet to fall. Gay Republican Richard Tisei failed in his bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Rep. John Tierney from a House seat in Massachusetts, which means the GLBT contingent in Congress will be entirely Democratic. Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, noted that forty state legislatures will now have GLBT representation.
2. Obama’s support of marriage equality was a good political move. After President Obama completed his nineteen-month “evolution” last May and announced his personal support for marriage equality, many political observers predicted a backlash at the polls. We may never know if this shift cut into Obama’s electoral margin, but it did have an immediate positive effect in fundraising for the Obama campaign. According to an analysis from National Public Radio, donations to Obama nearly tripled in the immediate period after the announcement.
3. GLBT support alone won’t save Republicans in moderate districts. Despite the apparent support that Obama won as a result of coming out for marriage equality, Republicans in office who were supportive of GLBT issues didn’t fare as well in the 2012 election. In Massachusetts, Tisei was notable among those Republicans. Also of note was freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY), a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, who lost to gay Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney; Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal even before the Pentagon report came out in favor of open service; and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), who during her five terms in Congress voted against a Federal Marriage Amendment and in favor of ENDA and hate crimes legislation. U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon in Connecticut was also defeated; she supported Defense of Marriage Act repeal.
4. The national trend in favor of marriage equality is real. Four states yielded good news for supporters of same-sex marriage: Maine approved a voter-initiated referendum legalizing same-sex marriage; voters in Maryland and Washington upheld same-sex marriage laws passed by the legislatures; and Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have restricted marriage to one man, one woman. The wins were a remarkable turnaround, breaking a losing streak in 32 states where same-sex marriage lost at the ballot box. Moreover, the wins also validate national polls showing a gradual rise in support for same-sex marriage, which has led to a bare majority supporting marriage rights for gay couples.
5. The influence of anti-gay groups is waning. The election results were a disaster for social conservative groups trying to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage while electing Mitt Romney as president. Journalist Lanae Erickson, a fair-minded observer of cultural trends, predicted that “social conservative groups may seek to veer away from demonizing LGBT people … because they realize that the momentum on this one just is not in their favor.” Activist Dan Pinello noted that funding for anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage may start to dry up in the wake of these defeats, making it harder for these groups to continue operating.