The midterm elections were a mixed bag for Democrats, losing the House, but maintaining a slim margin in the Senate. So too were the elections a mixed bag for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans who had seemed to finally find a champion in the White House and had finally taken some much needed baby steps toward true equal rights in the Congress.
Amid the largely anti-gay rights Republican sweep of many races, there is much for LGBT people to celebrate as the dust begins to settle. For one, at least 106 openly gay candidates were elected to office around the country.
According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund’s CEO Chuck Wolfe that’s a new record.
“There is no sugar-coating the loss of so many of our straight allies in Congress, but we can be proud that our community continues to expand its voice at all levels of government in America. Out public officials are having a sizable impact on the local, state and national debates about LGBT equality. Increasing their numbers is a vital part of a long-term strategy to change America’s politics and make our country freer and fairer for everyone.”
Some of the races won by openly gay people include:
–David Cicilline’s election to Congress. The Providence, R.I. mayor will be the fourth openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives, joining Reps. Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and Jared Polis, who each won reelection.
–Jim Gray’s election as mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, the state’s second-largest city.
–Nickie Antonio’s election to the Ohio House. Antonio will be the first openly LGBT person to serve in the state legislature.
–Marcus Brandon’s election to the North Carolina House. Brandon will be the state’s only openly gay state legislator and one of just five out African Americans to serve as state lawmakers.
Brandon even won the endorsement of Rev. Cardes Brown, pastor of New Light Missionary Baptist Church and president of the Greensboro NAACP.
Even though he said his endorsement would cause “repercussions and some backlash” Rev. Brown said he stepped up because he knew that Brandon will represent his constituency and not his personal interests.
Federal level gay and lesbian legislators won their re-election bids meaning U.S. Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Jared Polis (D – CO) will return in the next Congress.
Despite the wins, however, progress on measures near and dear to the hearts of LGBT Americans now may be dead on arrival with many newly elected anti-gay Tea Party backed candidates like Rand Paul and Pat Toomey preparing to take their seats in the Senate.
Advocates on both sides of the aisle almost uniformly agreed that the large agenda items such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Defense of Marriage Act repeal, and passing domestic partner benefits for government employees would be nonstarters in the 112th Congress. But most also agreed that “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal might still garner bipartisan support.
The only gay people who seem to be happy with the results are the gay Republicans over at GOProud. Christopher Barron, chairman of the Board of GOProud said the LGBT community should see the opportunities for economic equality that a Republican majority in the House could bring.
As Republicans revisit taxes and the federal deficit, Barron saw an opportunity for LGBT activists to push for optional personal savings accounts that move toward privatizing Social Security. From his perspective, this would help level the playing field for LGBT Americans, who are currently locked into a Social Security system that does not allow them to pass their survivor benefits along to their partners.
“You’d be able to take a portion of your Social Security tax dollars and put it into a personal savings account that you could leave to your partner or really anyone that you wanted to – something you’re barred from doing today,” Barron said.
Gay and lesbian couples can already invest their money in private retirement accounts. There’s no need to dismantle Social Security using “equality” as a red herring.
Speaking of marriage equality — the biggest shock of the night came in Iowa, where three Supreme Court judges up for retention were instead removed from the bench for their vote to affirm marriage equality in the state. The campaign to remove the judges had deep religious roots and was largely funded “by out-of-state anti-gay marriage groups, including the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the nation’s most vociferous opponent of gay marriage, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the Christian-based American Family Association (AFA). “
Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC), said removal of the judge’s was “God’s will.”
“So we’re praising God; we’re thanking all the Iowans who stood up to judicial tyranny,” he shares. “It’s great news in Iowa, and it’s great news for the country that judges don’t have to lord it over us. ‘We the people’ are the ultimate authority.”
Wait, who is the ultimate authority? In his next sentence, Hurley contradicted himself:
“God is our ultimate authority, and we think that we did God’s will by standing up to the three judges who would try to redefine God’s institution and say that marriage is anything other than one man and one woman,” Hurley explains.
Despite the setbacks, Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said this is familiar territory for the LGBT community, and they should remain optimistic.
“Fact is, our community has always had to fight — and fight hard — for equality. This is nothing new to us. But here’s another fact: There are Americans, from every part of the country, from every background, from every political leaning and of every faith, who support equality for LGBT people — and those numbers grow bigger every day.”
The fact also is that much of that growing support is coming from people of faith — and that should be something to give the LGBT community hope even as the dark clouds seem to be gathering.