The gay rights battle in America has been a tough slog measured in inches, not yards -- at least until last night, when progress could be calculated in miles. In a blink, the future became the present, and our horizons were without limitation. In a sweeping election victory, barriers were broken, glass ceilings shattered and dreams realized, and the upstream struggle for LGBT equality suddenly felt like a fantastic flume ride at the amusement park. Against all odds, we won four referenda on marriage equality, where we had previously won a goose egg. Not only is the monkey finally off our backs, but we spanked the critter, took him to the zoo, locked him in a cage and force-fed him a banana peel for lunch.
Perhaps we should have had a clue of the tsunami to come when our biggest advocate was a punter for the Minnesota Vikings named Chris Kluwe. Maybe we should have expected walls to crumble when Zach Wahls, the son of a lesbian couple from Iowa, rushed to defend his two mothers. We might have foreseen that the floodgates would open when Bill Gates opened his wallet for same-sex marriage in Washington, along with Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. Or perhaps we should have known when the world's biggest pop star, Lady Gaga, seemed to be popping up everywhere to stump for marriage equality. It was different this time because we weren't alone and our straight allies stood with their LGBT friends and family members to do the backbreaking work required to get us over the hump.
Of course, the biggest victory was the reelection of Barack Obama, the first president to support marriage equality. When he came out in favor of it, there was trepidation that it might imperil his chances of retaking the White House. His win showed that backing same-sex marriage was not a risky strategy and had no adverse consequences at the national level. The result will be a full-fledged and permanent bear hug from the Democratic Party, with virtually all reluctance to embracing marriage equality evaporating. It is unlikely that a Democrat will ever again get the nomination without sharing the same public policy position as Barack Obama. Leading Democratic contenders for the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, already appear to be competing for the title of "most gay-friendly candidate."
Of paramount significance is the fact that the Supreme Court is protected for another four years -- saving Roe v. Wade and giving hope to marriage equality advocates if a case finally comes before the nine justices. Had Romney been elected, he would have sat down with extremist Robert Bork to pick a younger version of Antonin Scalia to sit on the bench. Those who care about LGBT equality and abortion rights dodged a bullet by the president being reelected.
When the votes were counted, the Republican Party surely had to get the message that standing in the way of history was no longer a viable national strategy. The tide has turned, and the GOP can either swim with the current or get washed out to sea on a wave of wishful thinking. We already saw gay issues downplayed by the Romney campaign, but now that approach may be out of play if the Republican Party wants to woo the next generation. Surely, the writing is on the wall when 70 percent of the 18-to-30 demographic supports marriage equality.
Additionally, GOP officials had to be incensed that Tea Party radicals, such as Todd "legitimate rape" Akin (R-Mo.) and Richard "Rape is God's Will" Mourdock (R-Ind.) helped keep the United States Senate in Democratic hands. Tea Party stalwart Michele Bachmann barely eked out a victory in Minnesota, and it appears that Allen "I smell commies" West may have fallen in Florida. When the next session of Congress begins, these results substantially weaken the hand of religious radicals who routinely vote against gay rights and access to abortion.
Of course, the biggest surprise of the night was the four victories in referenda on marriage equality, considering that prior to Tuesday the LGBT movement was 0-31 in votes on this issue. This gave opponents, such as Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the ability to say that they represented the will of the people. This potent talking point crumbled in the face of victories in Maine, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota.
In Washington and Maryland, voters were deciding on whether to uphold marriage laws passed by their legislatures and signed by these states' respective governors, Christine Gregoire and Martin O'Malley. In Maine, gay rights advocates went on offense for a change, placing a referendum on the ballot to ask voters to decide on the question of marriage equality. The huge victories in these three states mean that gay marriage is now a reality in nine states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Maine, Washington, Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York -- and the District of Columbia.
With the exception of Rhode Island, the important cultural, educational, media and economic hub of New England is now a marriage equality zone. When the legal wrangling in California ends, the entire West Coast, except for Oregon, will allow marriage equality. Illinois, which currently allows civil unions, has a fair chance of becoming the next Midwestern state to allow marriage for same-sex couples.
Prior to the election, I privately expected wins in Washington and Maine and narrow losses in Minnesota and Maryland. To win all four fights is not just a tipping point but a historical turning point, if not an outright landslide for the ages. Americans are quickly losing their fear of marriage equality, and states that don't get on board will soon be viewed as backwaters that are more interested in prejudice than prosperity. Corporations will increasingly eschew enclaves where they can't attract the best and the brightest, in favor of more progressive areas that embrace education and diversity. The forces of the past can either get onboard or be thrown overboard.
The repudiation of anti-gay prejudice in Maryland was particularly scrumptious because it slapped down NOM's divisive strategy of driving a wedge between African Americans and gays and pandering to conservative Catholics. At the Values Voter Summit, Derek McCoy, Executive Director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, summed up the devastation to the anti-gay movement that would come with a loss in his state: "If we lose in Maryland specifically, the headlines will read the next day, 'Obama Wins On Gay Marriage' and 'Catholic Governor Of Maryland Switches The Catholic Vote.'" Well, it seems that McCoy is better at predictions than running campaigns. NOM's ugly divide-and-conquer strategy fell flat. Today, to stanch the bleeding, McCoy will join the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins on a media conference call -- or, more likely, a conference cry.
In my view, the biggest surprise came in the Minnesota victory. At the recent Values Voter Summit, John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council, almost seemed giddy with confidence that his side would win. He claimed at the time that his campaign was leading in every demographic, and he said that there was no ethnic or religious group that his campaign was not targeting: "We've been in the state's largest mosques, and they are solidly behind the marriage amendment ... but getting out the vote is everything for us."
NOM's Brian Brown expressed his disenchantment with the election results in a public statement today:
Though we are disappointed over these losses, we remain faithful to our mission and committed to the cause of preserving marriage as God designed it. Marriage is a true and just cause, and we will never abandon the field of battle just because we experienced a setback. There is much work to do, and we begin that process now.
I'm no theologian, but if God is on Brown's side, He certainly did nothing to help him get out the vote. Perhaps God listened to Brown's incoherent arguments or was disgusted by campaign strategist Frank Schubert's dishonest anti-gay ads and changed His mind on the issue?
There was even good news from Iowa. Prior to the election, NOM went on a highly touted bus tour to defeat Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins and unseat state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat. Here is what NOM's Brown had to say to BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner prior to the election:
We're going into Iowa. Why are we spending all these resources in Iowa? We've never hidden it. We want to defeat the judges, and we want to have a constitutional amendment. And, guess what? Mike Gronstal is about to lose. He's not going to be Senate leader. And we're going to get a vote in Iowa. And the whole notion that we're somehow in a containment mode will be done. We're going into Iowa, we're gonna get a vote, and we're gonna win the vote. And, people can say that this isn't gonna happen, but it is.
Both Wiggans and Gronstal won. When the biggest opponent of marriage equality can no longer achieve victory in the cornfields of Iowa, his mission is in deep trouble. Brown should consider polishing his resume and looking for a new career.
You know it's a huge night when I don't get around to mentioning the election of the first openly gay United States senator, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), until the umpteenth paragraph. Still, her win over Tommy Thompson was one for the history books, and her progressive voice will be instrumental in the Senate. If this weren't enough, gay candidates were elected to the House of Representatives in record numbers. Seven states elected their first openly gay lawmakers: Florida, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, New Mexico, Texas and Pennsylvania.In other news:
- Democrat Margaret Hassan clinched the governorship in New Hampshire, ensuring that marriage equality will be protected. I guess voters decided to "live free."
- Hawaii's anti-gay former governor, Linda Lingle, a Republican, was defeated in her U.S. Senate race by Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono. Hirono becomes Hawaii's first woman senator, and she is a supporter of LGBT equality.
- In Orlando, former Equality Florida staffer Joe Saunders won a victory over Republican Marco Pena, 55 percent to 44 percent.
Most of us went into Election Day hoping for a cloud with a silver lining. Instead, we got a silver cloud with a gold lining, and one of the most significant days in the history of the LGBT movement.