The Single Biggest Night For Gay Rights In Electoral History

GT BALDWINVICTORY 121107 Last night, 77% of gay and lesbian voters – who made up 5% of the electorate – cast their ballots for Obama, the first president to support marriage equality, and the first sitting president to mention gays in a victory speech. The 113th Congress, meanwhile, will be a groundbreaking one: voters elected America’s first out US senator – Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin – and sent to the House five out gay men (two of them incumbents, and one of the first out gay person of color in Congress) and an out bisexual woman (the first openly bi member of Congress). Americans also re-elected a pro-equality justice in Iowa after three pro-equality justices were ousted in 2010. And, of course, we went four for four in the marriage equality ballot measures in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota. 

Adam Serwer summarizes a key implication of the marriage equality ballot measure results:

The National Organization for Marriage saw their path to victory in peeling off socially conservative and religious minority voters who usually vote for Democrats and enlisting them in the fight against same-sex marriage rights. Internal documents showed that NOM believed that by putting forth black and Latino spokespeople, they could discredit the idea of same-sex marriage as a civil rights cause and drive a wedge between two typically Democratic constituencies…. The results are harbingers of the future in [a] crucial way: LGBT activists’ win in Maryland, which has a large population of black voters, suggests that NOM’s racist wedge strategy is crumbling.

Dan Savage strains to follow NOM’s spin. Nathaniel Frank details Freedom to Marry’s painstaking path to victory in Maine, particularly how it used a smart, rigorous ground game to combat deceptive ads about teaching pro-gay values to schoolchildren:

The research, which even included a control group, showed which approaches worked with which groups. Older people might respond better to older messengers; pet owners might respond better to in-person conversations than to mailings. Armed with this kind of granular information, campaigners could work most effectively to shore up support among persuadable voters. In the end, the Maine campaign spoke to 250,000 people, nearly a fifth of the state’s population—and that was likely the fifth that mattered most. This sort of effort is ongoing in more states beyond this week’s election, such as Oregon, which may be next up for an initiative. 

The once-pessimistic E.J. Graff envisions the future:

In 2014, Oregon will be among the next wave of states to pass marriage equality at the ballot. I don’t know what other states are on the list, but within two years the majority of Americans will be living in equal-marriage states. By 2020, the majority of American states will be actively marrying same-sex couples. Not long thereafter, the Supreme Court will slap the remaining Southern states into line.

She adds:

When President Obama said he had come around, the rest of you came around with him. There’s no turning back. Before yesterday, the marriage-equality forces were 0 for 32 at the ballot box—voters had opted to ban gay marriage every time the issue had been put to them. But from here on, we will win—if not every time, then the overwhelming majority of the time.

Alex Ross reflects:

[M]y memories go back only to the nineteen-eighties; I can’t imagine what gay people aged sixty or seventy are experiencing. I’ve tried to piece together reasons for the great transformation, but there is no single answer…. [T]he landscape has been changing, inch by inch, for a long time. Last night, I found myself wishing that Frank Kameny, one of the pioneers of gay politics, could have lived to see the victories in Maryland and elsewhere. In 1965, he marched outside the White House with a small band of picketers, protesting the ban on “sexual perversion” in government. Kameny died last year; he did get to witness the overturning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. 

Ross cheers Obama’s role in ushering the sea change in American acceptance:

I recall sitting bolt upright when he reached a particular line in his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention: “We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.” There was an electrifying casualness, a lack of self-consciousness, in his delivery of those words. Suddenly, gays found themselves installed in a postmodern Norman Rockwell tableau, leaning over the metaphorical white picket fence. The same panorama was glimpsed in Obama’s victory speech last night: “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, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

(Photo: Supporters cheer during an election night event for U.S. Senate candidate U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) on November 6, 2012 in Madison, Wisconsin. By Darren Hauck/Getty Images)