An LGBT reflection on the 2012 election
by Megan Smith
The times, they really are a-changin’. Earlier this year, President Obama made national history by announcing his personal support for marriage equality, the first president to make such a commitment to LGBT people. Little did we know that this was just the beginning—the November 2012 election brought an influx of LGBT officials, wins for marriage equality, and an overall explosion within the fight for queer rights.
The Human Rights Campaign reported that seventy-six percent of LGB voters favored Obama in this election, making for a lot of nervous gays glued to their television sets on election night. The questions on the minds of most: Will my voice be heard? What will the results mean for my future?
Early on election night, the first numbers back showed Romney in the lead. Chests tightened. Then, a few hours later, a headline graced the bottom of the screen—President Barack Obama Re-elected.
Final numbers showed Obama with a little over fifty percent of the popular vote, triumphing over Romney’s forty-eight percent, according to the Huffington Post. How much did the LGBT vote matter? According to a recent Gallup poll of 120,000 LGBT people, it mattered a lot. Gallup reported that LGBT voters swung the election by two full points, suggesting that the queer vote possibly decided this election.
But stomachs didn’t untwist quite yet. There were four major ballot measures on the table that meant big things for the gay community—possible marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, and a constitutional amendment that would deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry in Minnesota. With sixty-six percent of 18- to 29-year-olds supporting marriage rights for same-sex couples, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, spirits were high and hoping for the best.
Maine’s results were first in. The numbers on the screen called for mass celebration—marriage equality passed with fifty-four percent, marking the first time its legalization was achieved by popular vote. “We are thrilled for all Maine families and for the dedicated campaign that led this effort through to the end,” Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin told the Huffington Post. “As we celebrate victory tonight, we know we have added momentum to ensure that this victory is soon felt in every corner of this country.”
Soon after that victory, cheers erupted once more as Maryland joined Maine in approving marriage equality—the first state below the Mason-Dixon line to do so.
LGBT rights activists feared the worst for Minnesota, as they had seen this type of antigay constitutional amendment before—previously passing in over thirty other states. However, this time things looked different. The main force campaigning against the measure, Minnesotans United for All Families, built a coalition of 700 partner organizations, raised more than $13 million from over 67,000 donors, held 330,000 one-on-one conversations with voters, made over two million phone calls, and even persuaded five of the six Lutheran synods in the state to oppose the amendment. “We have to tell our stories,” Grant Stevensen, a Lutheran pastor who served as Minnesotans United’s faith director, told Minnesota Public Radio. “We have to listen to their stories. We have to find a way to open our hearts a little bit.”
The results were in—Minnesota became the first state to ever strike down this type of discriminatory amendment. The Human Rights Campaign, which donated over $1 million to defeat the measure, was overjoyed. “Minnesota is a prime example that we are experiencing a sea change in how Americans view their LGBT neighbors,” Griffin said. “With thirty states having voted to write discrimination into their constitutions, Minnesotans stood up and said, ‘Not us’, and more are sure to follow their lead.”
Election night did not bring a decision on marriage equality in Washington, due to the state’s mail-in voting system. But the next afternoon, the LGBT community was victorious once more—all votes counted, Washington approved the measure with fifty-two percent of the popular vote. “This is an historic day for Washington, an historic day for our country, and, most of all, for families across the state who have dreamed of this day and the wedding celebrations to come,” Washington United for Marriage campaign manager Zach Silk wrote on the group’s website.
The wins for LGBT people did not stop with votes on marriage equality. The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund celebrated more than one hundred of their endorsed LGBT candidates elected across the nation this election cycle.
OutSmart highlights a few states with LGBT victories in the 2012 election:
Kyrsten Sinema was elected as the first openly bisexual congresswoman with a close win over Republican opponent Vernon Parker for the Congressional District 9 seat. “We’re thrilled for Kyrsten,” Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, said in a statement. “She’s a dynamic leader and she’ll be a strong voice for her community and for all LGBT Americans.”
California educator Mark Takano became the first LGBT person of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives after defeating Republican competitor John Tavaglione for the 41st Congressional District seat. “Times certainly have changed,” Takano told The Advocate. “And in my current race, not a single voter has asked me about being gay.”
Openly gay Sean Patrick Maloney won a seat in Congress, making him the first openly LGBT member of Congress to represent New York. In one of the most closely watched races in the nation, Maloney beat out incumbent Nan Hayworth with a little over fifty-one percent of the vote, according to RealClear Politics. “The people in my district are a lot more concerned about why my opponent wants to end Medicare than who I love,” Maloney said in an interview with The Advocate before he was elected. “I’m not running as the gay candidate, but I’m not running away from it, either.”
Democrat Mary Gonzalez was elected to the Texas State House of Representatives, representing District 75 in El Paso. Gonzalez is the state’s first self-identified pansexual lawmaker, meaning she does not believe in a gender binary and can be attracted to all gender identities including men, women, transpeople, and genderqueer individuals. “That sort of education is a good thing,” Denis Dison, spokesperson for The Victory Fund told Gay Politics.
Seven-term Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin made history as the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate after defeating former Republican Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson. She is also Wisconsin’s first female senator. “Now, I am well aware that I will have the honor of being Wisconsin’s first woman senator,” Baldwin said in her victory speech. “And I am well aware that I will be the first openly gay member. But I didn’t run to make history. I ran to make a difference.”
Baldwin’s old House seat went to Mark Pocan, an openly gay man. “It’s fitting that as congresswoman Tammy Baldwin fights to win an historic victory in the Senate, Mark Pocan will follow in her footsteps as one of the most powerful voices for LGBT equality in America,” Wolfe said in a statement.
Of course, change takes time. However, inspired by the accomplishments of LGBT victors and marriage equality achievements in this election cycle, both Illinois and Missouri have stepped up as the next arenas in the fight for equality. Following the election, Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he will lead an effort to legalize same-sex marriages in Illinois, vowing to make it a priority in the state.
Similarly, in Missouri, a new political action committee called Missourians for Equality is fighting for a proposal that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity within the state. The group currently awaits the Missouri secretary of state’s approval, which will allow the committee to begin collecting signatures to place their proposition on the November 2014 ballot. “[This election] will be viewed by history as an historic turning point,” Aaron Malin, executive director of Missourians for Equality, told the Columbia Daily Tribune. “We think that Missouri would be ready to take a step toward nondiscrimination.”