11/09/2012 06:41 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

It's the Environment, Stupid

In the days leading up to Election Day this year, we were reminded by Hurricane Sandy of how humans are hurting ourselves and our planet. This brought into sharp relief Tuesday's electoral choices and the vastly divergent future paths they offered. Only one of those paths involves acknowledging our changing world and working to improve it for all of us.

It is long past time to acknowledge that climate change is real, and that it is dangerous. While I hope both parties saw this lesson in Hurricane Sandy, the Republican Party must face another one with equally important human consequences: It cannot deny rights and attention to LGBT, female and minority communities if it wishes to remain a mainstream presence in American politics.

As I told President Obama when I had the honor to meet him last May, no heterosexuals -- in fact no one at all -- had been hurt by marriage equality's passage in the state of New York last year. I like to imagine, however unlikely it may be, that this jesting statement of fact contributed to his subsequent endorsement of marriage equality. Certainly it seems that citizens across the U.S. have come to acknowledge this. Victories for marriage equality on Tuesday in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota affirm Americans' agreement that my basic right to marry whomever I choose does not threaten anyone.

With the long campaigns behind us, and recovery from Sandy ongoing, we have a clear path forward. Elections across the country have brought us a diverse array of officials who will advocate for the progressive policies we need, including our first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin, who is blazing a path for women and for the LGBT community everywhere. I know it is difficult to be the first and only representative of any group, but it is also essential to making our country the diverse and welcoming place we want it to be. Not only does the LGBT community need role models like Tammy Baldwin, but the country needs those outside our community to learn to see us as equals despite our minority status.

As the main sponsor of New York's Marriage Equality Act, I spent five years lobbying my colleagues for the intensely personal, basic civil right of marriage. One of the most disheartening things I heard from my Republican colleagues when I sought their support, something I heard repeatedly, was that while many of them supported marriage equality personally and wanted to vote for it, they could not for fear of their own party turning on them. What a sobering example of the Republican Party holding its own members back. This set of beliefs is what was rejected at the polls this week, when voters repudiated anti-woman, anti-immigrant and anti-equality politicians in favor of progressive leaders advocating inclusion and diversity. If the Republican Party cannot expand its policies to support diversity, it will find itself dwindling and increasingly irrelevant.

Our task in the days ahead is to advocate for sensible policies that promote equality and prosperity for us all. We must work to expand marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws and pursue progressive environmental policies and infrastructure renewal projects that can both stop climate change in its tracks and prepare us to face future weather emergencies. We must work, regardless of party affiliation, to promote advances in equality and diversity. This is what the United States asked us for on Tuesday, and this is what we will work to achieve.