Historic Night for LGBT Candidates But GOP Dominance Could Mean Trouble for LGBT Rights
While LGBT rights advocates such as stalwart Rep. Patrick Murphy lost out on Tuesday, LGBT candidates themselves had a historic night with a current estimate of 106 of the Victory Fund’s 164 endorsed candidates being elected.
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund is a non-partisan national organization dedicated to increasing the number of qualified openly LGBT elected officials at all levels of government in the United States with the message that if those individuals are qualified, their LGBT identity should not be used to prevent them from holding office.
After results began to roll in, Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe issued the following statement lamenting the loss of LGBT allies in Congress but also highlighting the election of so many LGBT officials:
“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. We will continue to focus on training committed, qualified candidates, and we will work hard to get them elected to public office.”
Notable wins include:
- Providence mayor David Cicilline was elected to Congress making him the fourth openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He joins Representatives Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and Jared Polis– all of whom retained their seats.
- Victoria Kolakowski was elected as a Superior Court judge in Alameda, making her the first openly transgender judge in America.
- Laurie Jinkins was elected to the Washington State House, making her Washington’s first openly lesbian state legislator.
Unfortunately, results weren’t all positive. The GOP has been given control of a sizable number of state legislatures and this fact has made LGBT rights proponents anxious, and for good reason.
The New Hampshire Legislature, for example, is now in the hands of a veto-proof Republican majority. This will likely mean a marriage amendment will soon be drawn up to repeal New Hampshire’s marriage equality law. However, New Hampshire’s governor John Lynch, who the National Organization for Marriage had tried to unseat because he signed the state’s marriage equality bill into law (though he has personally opposed gay marriage), retains his position for a historic fourth term.
Similarly, with North Carolina’s Legislature under Republican control for the first time in over one hundred years, an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the state would also appear a foregone conclusion because Democratic control of the state legislature was perceived as the only barrier to have thus far prevented the state from adopting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage like the rest of the southern states.
Perhaps even more worrying, state level LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination legislation now seems particularly vulnerable.
In other states, however, potentially more positive signs could be drawn from Tuesday’s results. New York voters elected Andrew Cuomo as their next governor— Cuomo has been a vocal proponent of marriage equality. Other states such as Maryland, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Colorado also elected officials that, based on their previous records, may be open to advancing LGBT rights legislation of varying kinds.
Of course, when peering through an LGBT rights lens, an overview of this week’s election results can not be complete without also conceding how losses at the federal level could seriously impact the progress of LGBT rights legislation.
The initial results of Election Day indicate new challenges as well as some opportunities ahead for moving forward on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, said the Human Rights Campaign – the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. The loss of the House of Representatives to an anti-equality leadership, along with the loss of some fair-minded Senators, will certainly impede federal legislative efforts. Perhaps most strikingly though, candidates who were the most vociferous opponents of LGBT equality did not fare well against fair-minded candidates.
The loss of the House to anti-equality leaders is a serious blow to the LGBT community. The presumptive leadership team of Reps. Boehner, Cantor and Pence all score zeros on the HRC scorecard and many soon-to-be committee chairs have long anti-LGBT records. The past four years of Democratic leadership stopped anti-equality lawmakers from being able to move the most damaging legislation and amendments forward, however, the 110th and 111th Congresses did not hold pro-equality majorities on every issue. The 112th Congress will prove even more challenging in rounding up the votes needed to advance pro-LGBT legislation. A particular disappointment is the loss of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal champion Patrick Murphy in the U.S. House.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has also been keen to put things into perspective, with executive director Rea Carey issuing a frank assessment of the uphill struggle LGBT-friendly legislation now faces in Congress while stressing that, at the federal level, an uphill battle is really nothing new and that for proponents, the fight continues regardless:
“We’ll cut to the chase: The shift in the balance of power will very likely slow advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights legislation in Congress. Does this mean a blockade on LGBT rights? Not if we can help it. 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.
Bottom line: While political winds and players may shift, the fundamental needs of the people do not. No matter who is in office, people need jobs, protection from discrimination, a roof over their heads, a way to feed their families, a fair shake. No one should settle for less — we won’t.”
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