COVER STORY: ‘A landslide for equality’

Posted on 09 Nov 2012 at 9:15am

LGBT leaders look to continue the momentum after historic election yields 2nd term for Obama, 1st out U.S. senator, marriage in 3 states

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PRIDE AND PATRIOTISM | Revelers cheer early election returns favoring Washington state Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage, during a large impromptu street gathering in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (Associated Press)

FROM STAFF REPORTS

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of Tuesday, Nov. 6, for LGBT civil rights.

Democratic incumbent Barack Obama, who’s done more to advance LGBT equality than any president in U.S. history, captured a second term, defeating a Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who sought to enshrine anti-gay discrimination into the U.S. Constitution in the form of a Federal Marriage Amendment.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, who in 1998 was the first out non-incumbent elected to Congress, shattered another glass ceiling by becoming the first openly LGBT person elected to the U.S. Senate.

And despite Baldwin’s departure — she’ll be succeeded by the first openly gay person to replace an openly gay member of Congress — the number of out U.S. representatives went from four to six.

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PARTY TIME | Jay Narey, left, secretary for the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, and Charles Griffin, a former Stonewall Democrats of Dallas board member, celebrate at the Round-Up Saloon after the presidential race was called in favor of President Barack Obama. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Finally, in the biggest surprise of the night, marriage equality prevailed at the ballot box for the first time in history after 32 defeats — and then for the second, third and fourth times. Popular votes in Maine, Maryland and Washington will bring the number of states with marriage equality to nine, plus the District of Colombia — while voters in Minnesota became the first to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights group, called it a “sea change.”

“There is no question that we have reached a turning point in our movement,” Griffin said in a conference call with Dallas Voice and other media outlets on Wednesday, Nov. 7. “A landslide for equality is truly what last night can be described as. Momentum is on our side on all fronts.”

But momentum by its very nature can change, and Griffin seemed wary of excessive celebration or complacency as he noted some of the challenges that remain — including a Republican-controlled U.S. House where the LGBT community lacks the votes to achieve its biggest remaining legislative priority, a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“We have to remember just how far we have to go,” Griffin said. “When we have this momentum, it is not a time when we slow down. It’s the time when we as a movement double down, and that’s exactly what we have to do in the days and weeks ahead of us.

“At the end of the day time matters,” Griffin said, noting that gay youth in the 41 states with marriage inequality are continually told they are second-class citizens. “The consequences of that are horrific and sometimes tragic, so we have to move with a sense of urgency, but we also have to be strategic.”

Those words seemed to ring especially true in Texas, which Romney won with 57 percent of the vote, which lacks any statewide LGBT employment protections or relationship recognition, and where just days prior to the election, a state senator requested an opinion from the attorney general about whether domestic partner benefits offered by local government entities are legal under the state’s 2005 marriage amendment.

Chuck Smith, who was named executive director of Equality Texas last week, pointed to the outcome in Maine — where voters rejected marriage equality just three short years ago — as a sign of hope for the Lone Star State.

“It certainly is momentum in the sense that we’re finally breaking the ice and winning,” Smith said of Tuesday’s marriage victories.

“That, in one night, takes away the opposition’s talking point of you can never win if we take you to the ballot,” he added. “I think it also demonstrates the importance of ongoing civic engagement. It demonstrates the reality that people do and can change their opinion of our relationships over time.

“That work [in Maine] paid off in that people changed their minds and people came to support and recognize the validity of our relationships, so that totally translates to work that we need to do here in Texas,” Smith said.

Highlighting a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Oct. 31 that showed 69 percent of Texas voters support either same-sex marriage or civil unions — a record number in Texas — Smith said the organization will work to inform legislators that public opinion is changing from the 2005 poll numbers that showed 75 percent of voters were against relationship recognition in Texas, later passing a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“We have to do education to show people that Texas is not the same in 2012 as it was in 2005,” Smith said. “These victories in other states, they didn’t happen without a hell of a lot of ongoing, intensive, on-the-ground work. And that’s the type of work that Equality Texas needs to be able to do. And in order to do that in a state this big, it means people are going to have to get involved with our organization and support it both with time and with money in order for us to have those conversations and make sure that lawmakers understand that in fact public opinion has moved and is increasingly on our side.”

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EMBRACING VICTORY  | Lesbian Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez hugs a supporter at the Round-Up after it became clear she’d been elected to a third four-year term. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Equality Texas’ job will be slightly easier thanks to some election victories within the state on Tuesday, foremost among them the re-election of LGBT ally state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and the official election of Mary Gonzalez in El Paso’s House District 75, where she was unopposed. Gonzalez, a

Democrat who identifies as pansexual, is the first openly LGBT female elected to the Texas Legislature — and the state’s first out state lawmaker since 2003.

Democrats also broke the Republican supermajority in the Texas House. The the current GOP state House majority of 102-48 will become 95-55 in January.

Smith said Equality Texas plans to work with both parties — a Dallas Republican senator recently broke new ground by saying he supports three of the organization’s priority bills — to bring about change, but added that Democrats will now have a larger voice in the House.

“Eliminating any party’s supermajority makes the other party relevant, so when there was a supermajority, Republicans could pass whatever they wanted and however many Democrats were there were irrelevant,” he said.

With Davis’ win, the state Senate makeup is expected to remain 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, preventing a Republican tip to a two-thirds supermajority that would allow them to bring any legislation to the floor for consideration.

One setback for the LGBT community came when lesbian Houston attorney Ann Johnson lost to freshman incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis in District 134.
Johnson said she was proud of her campaign, especially because she brought up public education and healthcare, making Davis voice her stances on those issues.

“There was a great shift, I believe, that happened in this district and even Rep. Davis began to speak about trying to be independent and make these issues that we were discussing a priority,” Johnson told Dallas Voice. “I think that’s a credit to the support that we had and the campaign that we ran. I’m excited with what we we’ve been able to do and creating a new conversation for priorities in Texas.”

Smith said Johnson faced “an uphill battle just given the partisan makeup” because the swing district leaned more to the right after redistricting, which

Davis helped oversee. He said Johnson deserves credit for bringing attention to issues that Davis should focus on in her next term.

In Dallas County, four Democratic hopefuls lost close state House races, but the county as a whole remained blue, and lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez was re-elected to a third four-year term.

 “I’m blessed, I’m honored and continually grateful for the progressiveness of Dallas County,” Valdez told Dallas Voice after addressing the crowd at the city’s most iconic gay bar, the Round-Up Saloon, where Stonewall Democrats hosted its watch party. “This has to be a very progressive county or they wouldn’t keep putting in someone like me continually.”

Admitting that her first term was a challenge, Valdez said she has proven herself as sheriff in the change she has brought to the department during the last four years. Among other things, during her second term, the sheriff’s department became the first in Dallas County to add LGBT employment protections — which the Commissioners Court later expanded to all county employees last year.

“It’s not the same department that I got when I went in there. It is totally different,” Valdez said. “So, we’ve done a job of bringing about change. And change is never an easy thing to do. The first four years were quite a struggle but after the second term, things started to flow. We want to continue to build on the progress.”

Soon after polls closed in Texas at 7 p.m., the Round-Up Saloon filled with people watching election returns with Stonewall Democrats.

By the time Obama was announced the winner soon after 10 p.m., the bar was packed with revelers.

National Stonewall Democrats Leadership Committee Co-chair Erin Moore said it was a great night.

“A lot of high-profile candidates won,” she said, citing Baldwin’s election to the Senate and new gay House members.

“The country’s at a different place than many politicians think we are,” she said. “This is the first time a popular vote determined we should have the right to get married.”

Despite that success, Moore is not sure she wants to see a lot of other states putting equal rights on the ballot.

“I’d rather have a judicial win and declare DOMA unconstitutional and move on,” she said.

Ironically, the prospect of such a judicial victory may get a boost from the successful marriage votes on Tuesday, which could influence Supreme Court justices as they prepare to decide whether to take up DOMA and/or California’s Proposition 8 later this month. And certainly the prospect of future  pro-marriage decisions got a boost from Obama’s re-election, if he appoints Supreme Court justices in his second term.

Moore said she thinks the lesson of this election is that an extreme right-wing agenda doesn’t win elections and mentioned the number of tea party candidates turned out of office around the country. She thinks with an open presidential election in 2016, both parties in Congress will have to work to achieve a record of accomplishment over the next four years.

Moore said the LGBT community has made tremendous progress under Obama and will make some additional strides over the next four years.

“We gained more in the past four years than we have in the past 200,” she said. “We’re not letting him [Obama] off the hook, but realize we’re not the only people in the room.”

Stonewall President Omar Narvaez agreed with Moore on the outcome of the marriage equality resolutions.

While he was delighted that three additional states will have marriage equality and a fourth stopped an anti-gay constitutional amendment, he said elections shouldn’t be the way to go.

“It’s great we had four victories, but we shouldn’t be voting on civil rights,” he said.

In other races, Narvaez said Stonewall’s endorsement record this election was mixed.

“We were nine for nine in countywide races,” he said.

Of six endorsements given in federal races, the Dallas Democratic group backed three winners — Obama, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman-elect Marc Veasey.

Stonewall endorsed 15 candidates for state offices. Only the five who were running unopposed won election.

Theresa McDaniel, who was elected county commissioner for newly drawn District 1 that includes parts of Oak Lawn, will become the fourth Democrat on the Commissioners Court.

“It will be interesting to see how [Republican Mike] Cantrell acts,” Narvaez said. “He’ll be what John Wylie Price was for so long — the lone member of his party in the court.”

Although Republicans continue to hold a large majority in the Legislature, Narvaez said that the seven seats Democrats picked up switched from the tea party.

“The destructive supermajority is over,” he said. “Democrats will be part of the game.”

He was also optimistic about the new Congress.

“We’re sending a binder full of women to the U.S. Senate and more LGBT members than ever,” he said. “That’s huge.”

On the local gay Republican side, Metroplex Republicans President Rob Schlein seemed bitter in defeat.

Schlein said the nation as a whole lost on Tuesday because Romney was the best person to help the economy.

He said Republicans need to do research to find out the party’s important issues and stances on those issues, which he said would help evaluate what went wrong in this election cycle. He also said PACs need to focus more on educating the public about key issues at stake.

“I think Romney lost because there’s a lot of uneducated people that vote,” Schlein said. “And they really don’t understand the way the government works, they don’t understand how business works, they don’t understand the relationship between taxes and an employer’s ability to meet a payroll.”

Despite the disappointment of Romney’s loss, Metroplex Republicans Vice President Rudy Oeftering acknowledged the significance of the successful marriage votes.

“This is a turning point for equality,” Oeftering wrote on Dallas Voice’s website. “I can assure you my friends within the Republican Party see the writing on the wall. If nothing else, it’s no longer an issue that drives majorities to the polls. Congratulations to all of you that put your sweat and toil into this issue.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 9, 2012.

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