LGBT groups react to big losses in House, Senate

Posted on 03 Nov 2010 at 10:24am

From Staff and Wire Reports

Republicans won control of the U.S. House in Tuesday’s elections. As of 3 a.m. Wednesday, it appeared the GOP will hold at least 234 seats, to Democrats’ 180.

But Democrats retained a slim majority in the U.S. Senate — holding 51 seats, compared to the Republicans’ 47. At 3 a.m. Wednesday, Senate races in Washington State and Colorado were considered too close to call.

The LGBT community will be able to celebrate the addition of a fourth openly gay member to the House and the re-election of the three openly gay incumbents, but the loss of a Democratic majority in that chamber spells the end for hope that any of the dozen or so pro-gay measures pending in Congress have any chance of advancing in the next two years. The new Republican majority also increases the likelihood that measures hostile to LGBT civil rights issues can be publicized through hearings in committee that will, starting next January, be chaired by Republicans.

“Social justice movements always experience steps forward and steps back and this election turned out to be a mix of both,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement reacting to the election results. “Even though we will face greater challenges in moving federal legislation forward, nothing will stop us from using every tool to advance LGBT equality at every level. Attempts to hold back the tide of the equality movement will surely put anti-LGBT leaders on the wrong side of history.”

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made many promises to move LGBT legislation on her watch, the next likely speaker, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, has a score of zero on gay-related matters in the past three sessions of Congress, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Two other political zeros will be at his side: Eric Cantor of Virginia as the likely minority whip, and Mike Pence of Indiana, as Republican Conference Chair.

“We will be prepared to fight attempts to turn back the clock on equality as well as highlight how far this new leadership is outside the mainstream of public opinion,” Solmonese said. “We need not look any further than their decade of House control that brought us attempts to pass a federal marriage amendment, strip courts of jurisdiction to hear LGBT rights claims, cut HIV/AIDS funding and vilify openly LGBT appointees.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said: “We’ll cut to the chase: The shift in the balance of power will very likely slow advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights legislation in Congress. Does this mean a blockade on LGBT rights? Not if we can help it. Fact is, our community has always had to fight — and fight hard — for equality. This is nothing new to us. But here’s another fact: There are Americans, from every part of the country, from every background, from every political leaning and of every faith, who support equality for LGBT people — and those numbers grow bigger every day.”

“No matter what the political breakdown is in Washington, the Task Force will continue to identify and work with all fair-minded members of Congress who are willing to support and defend equality for LGBT people,” Carey said. “Through our New Beginning Initiative, we will continue to push for the administration and its agencies to make tangible changes that benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our families — changes that can be done without Congress. We will continue working with local partners in communities across the country to secure equality. Bottom line: While political winds and players may shift, the fundamental needs of the people do not. No matter who is in office, people need jobs, protection from discrimination, a roof over their heads, a way to feed their families, a fair shake. No one should settle for less — we won’t.”

On the bright said, openly gay Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., will return to their seats in the next Congressional session. And they will be joined by the openly gay mayor of Providence, R.I., who will be representing that state’s 1st Congressional district. Two other openly gay candidates for Congress on Tuesday did not succeed — Steve Pougnet in California and Ed Potosnak in New Jersey.

There were numerous other losses for the LGBT community to mourn in Tuesday’s results. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn., who led the charge to gain passage of a measure to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” lost his seat to Republican challenger Michael Fitzpatrick. And five other strong LGBT supporters lost Tuesday night, including Reps. Phil Hare of Illinois, (Illinois’ 17th Congressional district), John Hall and Michael Arcuri of New York, John Salazar of Colorado and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire. Hare earned a 100 percent score from HRC; Hall earned a 90, Arcuri an 85; and Salazar and Shea-Porter an 80.

Among other candidates with LGBT support who lost Tuesday night included Arizona Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell, who voted for ENDA in 2007 and opposed an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the federal constitution. Mitchell was defeated by Republican David Schweikert, who has said, “Traditional marriage is the basis for a functional society.” Texas Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards earned an HRC contribution even though he was not a strong supporter of equal rights for gays. But he was trounced by an even more conservative Republican opponent, Bill Flores. Flores says he believes “there is one definition of marriage and that is between one man and one woman” and has said he will “stand firm against any effort to change this or force Texas to recognize ‘gay marriages’ in other states.”

Twelve of the 17 Republican candidates endorsed by Log Cabin Republicans won their races Tuesday night, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Judy Biggert of Illinois, Todd Platts and Charles Dent of Pennsylvania, Dave Reichert of Washington, Leonard Lance of New Jersey, and Nan Hayworth and Richard Hanna of New York. One painful loss for Log Cabin was Republican was incumbent Joseph Cao of Louisiana. The group just this year presented Cao with its “Spirit of Lincoln” award for his support on the hate crimes bill and co-sponsorship of a bill to repeal DADT.

Republican Sean Bielat, who earned the endorsement of the new gay conservative group, GOProud, lost in his bid to unseat longtime Democratic gay Congressman Barney Frank. Bielat is against repealing DADT and supports “traditional marriage.”

In the Senate, the LGBT losses include longtime civil rights supporter Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, who was beaten by Republican newcomer Ron Johnson. Feingold was one of only 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. Johnson, like Feingold, supports repeal of DADT but only if the military approves it. Johnson opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples. Pro-gay Democrat Alex Giannoulias lost in his bid for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois to Congressman Mark Kirk.

During his time in the House, Kirk earned relatively strong scores from HRC, but last June he voted against repeal of DADT. Following numerous reports by bloggers that Kirk is a closeted gay man, a local television reporter asked him why the bloggers “keep saying that.” Kirk, who has said publicly he is not gay, said he thinks it’s because he’s divorced.

Meanwhile, both Democrat Kendrick Meeks and Independent Charlie Crist failed to win a Senate seat in Florida. That, instead, will be held by Republican Mark Rubio, who opposes repeal of DADT.

On the brighter side, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid beat out Tea Party Republican Sharron Angle. Reid was supportive of LGBT civil rights; Angle is not. California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a longtime LGBT supportive Democrat and one of the 14 DOMA opponents, eld onto her seat, defeating less supportive Republican Carly Fiorina. And pro-gay Democrat Chris Coons, endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, easily defeated Republican gadfly Christine O’Donnell. Coons has said he will “continue fighting for LGBT issues,” including marriage equality, repeal of DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act, and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

It is still unclear who has won the Senate races in Colorado and Washington State. In Colorado, incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet is in a very tight race against Republican Ken Buck, who has implied that homosexuality is akin to alcoholism. And in Washington, incumbent pro-gay Democrat Patty Murray was clinging to a thin lead over Republican challenger Dino Rossi, who opposes marriage equality and domestic partnerships.

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