Brightened prospects in Congress matched by elation at first-ever defeat of marriage ban
by Chris Crain
SGN Contributing Writer
The national wave that swept Democrats into power in the U.S. House and perhaps the Senate has brightened the prospect for Gay rights legislation in Congress and thrilled activists by knocking off one of the country's top anti-Gay incumbents.
Gays also celebrated the defeat of a broadly worded ban on Gay marriage and civil unions in Arizona — the first time that's happened in 25 states where such measures have been tried.
"Symbolically, [the Arizona result] is as important as the Massachusetts marriage decision," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Ballot measures banning marriage and civil union passed in five other states, though activists in Colorado held out hope until Wednesday that a pro-Gay domestic partnership might eke by after votes were counted from Denver, where massive problems with ballot machines slowed the process.
Some hoped that the spectacular fall of Colorado Springs evangelist Ted Haggard, accused by a male escort in Denver of paying for sex and crystal meth, would turn the tide against the ban, but former Colorado Gov. Bill Owen (R) told Fox News on Wednesday that he think the scandal "may have actually helped it pass."
"The whole issue of a male prostitute and the seedier side of that story made some people think, 'You know, I don't want anything to do with that,'" said Owen, who backed the marriage ban and opposed the D.P. initiative.
Efforts to defeat marriage bans came tantalizingly close in South Dakota (52 to 48 percent) and Virginia (57 to 43 percent), two traditionally "red" conservatives states. In past elections, such ballot measures have typically passed by lopsided support at 70 percent or higher.
"It's clear that fear-mongering around same-sex marriage by the GOP and the extreme Christian right is fizzling out," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. "It doesn't have the juice it had just two years ago — people are getting sick of it."
The most crushing defeat was in Wisconsin, where an amendment banning marriage, civil unions and perhaps other legal recognition for Gay couples passed easily, 60 to 40 percent, even as Democrats there took back the state Senate and handily won a contested gubernatorial race.
The Task Force cheered the passage of a local non-discrimination ballot referendum in Ferndale, Mich. — the third attempt since 1991 to pass a human rights ordinance. A city charter amendment banning bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity passed by a lopsided margin in Corvallis, Ore.
Moderate Republicans fare poorly in U.S. House races
The Democratic takeover of the House could dramatically brighten prospects for Gay rights legislation, including on hate crimes and a new version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that also includes protections based on gender identity.
The GOP House leadership deposed by voters on Tuesday has been markedly more conservative and opposed to Gay rights legislation than their Senate counterparts. Republicans expected the resignation from leadership and even from Congress of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who has been under fire for how he responded to complaints about inappropriate contact with pages by Republican Mark Foley of Florida.
Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat expected to be the first-ever female speaker of the House, has a strong pro-Gay record, though she has not mentioned ENDA or hate crimes as among her earliest legislative priorities.
The Democrat takeover of the House came at the expense of a number of moderate Republicans backed by both HRC and the Log Cabin Republicans. Two Connecticut incumbents — Republicans Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons — were among the casualties, though longtime Gay rights supporter Chris Shays (R) survived a close vote.
Only two out of eight embattled Republican House members backed by Log Cabin won on Tuesday, although 11 other Republican veterans backed by the Gay GOP group won handily.
Races were too close to call in the two House districts where HRC endorsed Democrats challenging Log Cabin-backed GOP incumbents: Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R) is trailing his Democrat Patrick Murphy, while Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), who was caught up in the Foley scandal, has a narrow lead over her HRC-endorsed challenger.
"Foley-gate" cost Republicans the once safe seat formerly held by the disgraced Gay congressman. Voters chose Democrat Tim Mahoney over Foley, whose name remained on the ballot although his votes went to Republican Joe Negron.
Jim Kolbe, the other openly Gay House Republican, announced his retirement months before he learned he also faces investigations into whether he had inappropriate contact with congressional pages. His seat flipped to the Democratic side as well.
The two openly Gay Democrats in Congress — Barney Frank (Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) — easily won re-election.
Openly Gay candidates fared well in races at the state and local level. Some 67 candidates backed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund won on Tuesday, including 34 elected to state legislatures. A Lesbian was also elected in a statewide race to the Oregon Supreme Court.
"This is the tipping point election for openly Gay candidates," said Chuck Wolfe, the Victory Fund director. "We're proving that qualified, well-prepared candidates matched with committed donors means Gays and Lesbians can move from having a stake in policy to actually making policy. There's no reason to sit on the sidelines with our fingers crossed anymore."
Santorum defeat cheered
Gay rights supporters nationwide savored the defeat of several high-profile anti-Gay incumbents, and no prize was larger than Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who lost by double digits to moderate Democrat Bob Casey.
Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, was a leading proponent of a federal marriage amendment and made headlines three years ago when he warned that a Supreme Court ruling that struck down sodomy laws would lead to legalization of "man on dog" sex.
Marilyn Musgrave, the Colorado Republican who has been the lead House sponsor of a federal marriage amendment, survived a strong Democratic challenge backed by Gay groups.
Three other House Republicans targeted by HRC for their anti-Gay records were ousted by voters on Tuesday, including Congressman Clay Shaw of Florida. The race was too close to call in another race, where HRC-backed challenger Patricia Madrid was slightly trailing GOP incumbent Heather Wilson of New Mexico.
Another leading anti-Gay incumbent, John Hostetler of Pennsylvania, was defeated after a controversial campaign where he aired ads warning voters, "Nancy Pelosi will then put in motion her radical plan to advance the homosexual agenda, led by Barney Frank, reprimanded by the House after paying for sex with a man who ran a Gay brothel out of Congressman Frank's home."
Log Cabin said social conservatives like Santorum and Hostetler within the GOP bore responsibility for the party's dismal showing on Tuesday.
"Social conservatives drove the GOP's agenda the last several years," said Patrick Sammon, interim director of the Gay GOP group. "Their divisive agenda alienated the mainstream Republicans and independents who determined this election's outcome."
Elation over Santorum's defeat was dampened by the loss of the Senate's most pro-Gay Republican. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, the only GOP member of Congress to back full marriage equality, was defeated by Sheldon Whitehouse. The Democratic challenger also supports full marriage rights.
Elsewhere in the contest for the Senate, Gay activists cheered the defeat of anti-Gay Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in Ohio. His Democratic challenger, Congressman Sherrod Brown, has a very strong record in support of Gay rights.
All eyes now are focused on Virginia, where control of the U.S. Senate may ride on whether voters there have ousted Republican incumbent George Allen, who jettisoned a moderate Gay rights record in the last several years to back a federal marriage amendment and oppose even employment protections and hate crime laws.
His challenger, moderate Democrat Jim Webb, was leading by three-tenths of one percent, and an expected recount could take weeks. Webb was backed by HRC, and is largely supportive of Gay rights, though the former Secretary of the Navy for Ronald Reagan opposes repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
HRC stayed out of Senate races in Montana and Missouri, where anti-Gay Republican incumbents appear to have gone down to defeat by small margins.
Pro-Gay candidates win races for governor
In gubernatorial races, two Democrats who back full marriage equality won their races on Tuesday. Activists hope Deval Patrick, the first-ever African American governor of Massachusetts, will help beat back efforts to amend that state's constitution to reverse the marriage victory won three years ago there.
Gov.-elect Elliot Spitzer has vowed to introduce Gay marriage legislation in New York, where the state's supreme court upheld laws there limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.
The Task Force also cheered the election of pro-Gay Democrat Ted Strickland as Ohio governor, against anti-Gay Republican Ken Blackwell.
"We saw Republicans and Christian right extremists trying to use an anti-Gay family amendment to help win Ohio for Bush-Cheney in 2004," said Foreman. "Yet in 2006, Ohio voters have rejected the politics of division and elected a moderate who opposes scapegoating Gay and Lesbian families for political gain."
Incumbent Democrat governors who are pro-Gay were also re-elected despite strong challenges in Wisconsin, Michigan and Oregon.
Log Cabin cheered the re-election of several moderate Republican governors, including Jodi Rell, who signed Connecticut's civil unions law, and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who has signed several Gay rights bills, though he vetoed a landmark Gay marriage law passed by state's legislature.