While working families and the people as a whole scored a major victory by electing Barack Obama and claiming larger majorities in Congress on Nov. 4, several states hammered the rights and equality of LGBT people.
Voters in three states, including two of which supported Barack Obama for president, appear to have passed bans on gay marriage. California, Florida, and Arizona saw such bans put in place. California will continue to allow civil unions.
Arkansas, which fell into the McCain column, passed a measure disallowing non-married couples from adopting children. The Arkansas measure was widely regarded as targeting gay couples as the language of the measure specifically listed same-sex couples as part of the ban.
‘The anti-LGBT votes show that although progressive forces are moving forward again around the country,’ commented Donna Cartwright, spokesperson for Pride at Work, the voice of LGBT people in the labor movement, ‘mean-spirited right wing forces remain active and can still inflict damage on ordinary working people, LGBT or straight.’
‘Much education remains to be done, and we will have to work hard to do it,’ she added.
Some activists have noted that the California initiative, the most closely contested and nationally followed of the three ballot initiatives, specifically took away marriage equality rights already provided to California residents by a state court decision last summer.
While the ballot measure in California has still yet to officially pass, it appears likely to do so as the remaining ballots are counted and the ‘yes’ clings to a four-precentage point lead. Opponents of the measure have already begun to file lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the ban under the ‘equal protection clause’ of the 14th Amendment.
In an e-mail to supporters, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese expressed some hope despite the decidedly disastrous outcome. A similar ban in California in 2000 passed comfortably by 22 percentage points. This time around, he pointed out, the vote has been closer, the political forces that mobilized against the measure were stronger and more united.
Anti-marriage equality measures in Arizona and Florida passed by comfortable margins, however. In fact, the Arizona ballot initiative passed after having failed there two years ago.
Nevertheless, Solmonese continued, several important Republican congressional figures with anti-gay agendas were defeated during the election, including Rep. Marilyn Musgrove (R-CO) who led the Republican effort to insert a ban on marriage equality in the US Constitution. More than two dozen members of Congress who have expressed positive views on LGBT issues were added as a result of the election, as well. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) will join Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) as the House of Representatives third openly gay member.
LGBT activists in the labor are disappointed by the results of the state ballot measures, but are heartened by future possibilities. ‘This is the dawn of a new political era of hope and engagement in the life of this country. A new administration brings a promise for a sea change in the tenor of the national dialogue on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues,’ Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund told the press.
Cartwright said, ‘In the coming few years, we look forward to the enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA); a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the removal of barriers to full access for LGBT people to government service and immigration; and continued progress on marriage equality.’
All three groups say they are looking forward to working with the Obama administration to make progress on these issues.