Democrats capture House and Senate
by Lisa Keen
SGN Contributing Writer
Open season on equal rights for Gay people is now over -- at least in Congress for the next two years.
On Tuesday, voters elected enough Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives to give Democrats control of that chamber. And, in doing so, they gave the House Speaker’s gavel to San Francisco’s U.S. representative, Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi –who has earned a perfect score on Gay-related votes according to the Human Rights Campaign—will be in a position –for at least the next two years-- to stop anti-Gay legislation from coming to the floor. Under Republican leadership, the House and Senate have entertained numerous anti-Gay amendments and have passed some, including the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
“It is incredibly important that Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker of the House,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “She is a fair-minded, heroic leader for our community and always has been.” Solmonese pointed out that, as Speaker, Pelosi “will control the agenda of this Congress.”
“If there’s one thing I know,” said Solmonese, “it’s that, under Nancy Pelosi, we will never again be debating the Federal Marriage Amendment or other mean-spirited attacks against our community in the House. For at least the next two years, those attacks are over.”
Solmonese said he has been in conversation with openly Gay U.S. representatives Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and that he feels the Gay community can now “begin having proactive conversations about moving our agenda forward” in Congress.
Control of the Senate was still in doubt at deadline Wednesday; however, in the two states where the outcome of Senate races was considered still “too close to call”—Virginia and Montana-- Democrats were holding the narrow lead over anti-Gay Republican incumbents.
“And a whole lot of hatred is gone from the U.S. Senate today,” said Solmonese. “It went out the door in the form of Rick Santorum.”
Pennsylvania Republican Santorum, one of the Senate’s most vehemently anti-Gay senators, was resoundingly defeated Tuesday by Democrat Bob Casey Jr.
“Exit polls and early election returns showed that Casey was not just defeating Santorum, he was stomping him,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer Wednesday.
“We are thrilled, ecstatic and overjoyed that Rick Santorum has been thrashed at the polls,” said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman. “His extreme and gratuitous homophobia will no longer pollute the Senate. Good riddance.”
Casey has stated that he does not support Gay marriage, but he has also stated his opposition to a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and said he supports giving Gay couples “all the rights, privileges and protections of marriage” through civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Other victories Tuesday night included the defeat of two other Republican Senate incumbents with hostile records on votes involving Gays: Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Missouri’s Jim Talent. Both are being replaced by Democrats who are seen as much more supportive of equal rights for Gays. Ohio’s DeWine lost to pro-Gay Democrat Sherrod Brown. Missouri’s Talent lost to Democrat Claire McCaskill. Brown had the endorsement and support of the Human Rights Campaign. McCaskill has said she believes marriage is between one man and one woman but she opposes a constitutional ban on marriage and has indicated she opposes sexual orientation discrimination.
There was one loss, of sorts, for Gay civil rights activists in the Senate. Pro-Gay Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island was defeated by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. Although the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Chafee, Whitehouse is considered a strong Gay civil rights supporter who not only opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage but also supports equal rights for Gay couples in marriage licensing.
Marriage was expected to play some role in voter turnout Tuesday. In eight states, anti-Gay marriage initiatives were on the ballot. And, less than two weeks before voting, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Gay couples should have the same benefits as straight couples. Although the court stopped short of saying Gay couples should have a right to “marriage” licenses, the ruling was used by President Bush and many Republicans to try and generate voter turnout for Republicans in many states. In North Carolina, the ruling was even used against a Democrat running for re-election to the state senate.
But before the vote could take place, other events intervened which made it difficult to gauge what was motivating voters Tuesday. Former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry triggered an outpouring of anger after he botched a joke that was meant to criticize President Bush but ended up sounding like an insult to the intelligence of American troops in Iraq. Many political observers suggested the anger at Kerry would spill over to Democrats generally. Then, days later, a news report broke that a male prostitute in Colorado had revealed that one of his clients was anti-Gay evangelist Ted Haggard. The new played prominently up until the election and some political observers suggested it might demoralize right-wing evangelical voters enough to lower turnout on election day.