The march to equality has steps forward and steps backward. Yesterday we saw some of each. Our fight for equality at the federal level was dealt a serious setback – but there are paths forward for pro-equality bills and amendments, and there are new opportunities for progress in states across the country. If you know anything about HRC, it’s that we’re fighters. And fighting tirelessly is exactly what we’ll need to do over the next few years.
Since 2006, the U.S. House has been led by committed supporters of equality. But yesterday, a wave of anti-LGBT radicals seized control. Their leaders – Reps. Boehner (R-OH), Cantor (R-VA), and Pence (R-IN) – all received scores of zero on HRC’s congressional scorecard, meaning they’ve NEVER supported a single pro-equality bill. Key Senate seats were lost as well.
In Pennsylvania, arch-conservative Pat Toomey beat the staunchly pro-equality Joe Sestak, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal leader Rep. Patrick Murphy lost his seat. Longtime LGBT rights champion Sen. Russ Feingold lost to multi-millionaire Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who’s called homosexuality a “dysfunction” and “personal enslavement,” continues as a U.S. Representative.
But there were major victories last night as well. A record number of openly LGBT candidates prevailed, including newly elected David Cicilline (D) of Rhode Island, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) spent millions to gin up hatred and fear, and although they ousted three Iowa judges who ruled for marriage equality, many of their favored candidates lost – like Tea Party darlings Christine O’Donnell in Delaware (who founded a group to “cure” homosexuality) and Sharron Angle in Nevada (who refused donations from pro-equality companies), as well as Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman in California and Carl Paladino in New York. The man who likened homosexuality to alcoholism, Colorado’s Ken Buck, also went down in defeat.
The upside is that we are now better positioned to win marriage equality or other forms of family recognition in multiple states. HRC’s Campaign for New York Marriage helped pick up three state senate seats, building significant momentum for a marriage equality vote. Maryland re-elected Governor O’Malley, who has committed to signing a marriage bill, and flipped a key state Senate Judiciary Committee seat. In California, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Colorado, pro-equality governors will take office.
These elections also proved again that pro-LGBT candidates don’t lose because of their belief in equality. New Hampshire voters rejected the bigotry and hate of NOM and other anti-equality forces and re-elected Governor John Lynch, who signed marriage equality legislation last year.
But hey, at least the democrats maintained control of the Senate.