Gay campaigners are hailing an “incredible night” for gay equality in the US as over 200 pro-gay candidates were elected for seats in Congress and as Governors in the US mid-terms and many anti-gay figures were ousted.
The Democrat Party now dominates the House of Representatives and the Senate, with Nancy Pelosi representing the party as the first female speaker, signalling a possible change in direction regarding America’s foreign policy and perhaps even some state’s attitude towards gay rights.
But the jubilation surrounding the election of many gay friendly candidates to Congress has been slightly overshadowed by the success of gay marriage votes across some US states, but campaigners say the margins suggest some progress.
Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, Tennessee, South Dakota and Virginia all passed gay marriage bans, while Arizona was the only state out of the seven to reject a constitutional ban, a first in the US.
Anti-marriage amendments were on the ballot in eight state referendums and were approved in seven of the eight, but by significantly lower margins than in past years. In 2004, there were 11 anti-marriage amendments on the November ballot, and in only two of them did opposition top 40 percent: Oregon (43 percent) and Michigan (41 percent.)
“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 and Lesbian Task Force. “It doesn’t have the juice it had just two years ago — people are getting sick of it.”
Two states — South Dakota and Virginia — did far better than pundits expected. In South Dakota the margin was 48 percent to 52 percent and was attributed to a strong campaign run with meagre resources by South Dakotans Against Discrimination and its campaign manager Jon Hoadley, and a strong “live and let live” ethos among South Dakotans.
In Virginia , the margin was 43 percent to 57 percent, a tie with the best-showing state in 2004 (Oregon). Assumptions that the margin would be higher reflected a failure to understand how much the Old Dominion has changed and underestimating the strength of the “Vote No on #1” campaign managed by Claire Guthrie GastaÃ±aga.
Colorado enacted a ban on gay marriage and domestic partnerships by 57 percent to 43 percent.
Wisconsin approved the constitutional amendment by 58 percent to 42 percent, but campaigners remain positive, Fair Wisconsin said: “We know for certain that many of the same people who voted for this amendment today are the very same people who will support equality for gay families within the next 5 or 10 years.
“That change might not have been on the timeline forced on us by our opponents, but we cannot ignore the fact that we have laid the foundation for long-term change in Wisconsin. Because of our work, more people in this state than ever before understand that gay families exist in this state and discrimination hurts them.”
However, in Tennessee, support for the ban was almost unanimous with 81 percent voting for it, and it was a similar case in Idaho with over 70 percent supporting a ban and also outlawing the prospect of domestic partnerships.
South Carolina also enacted a ban with 78 percent of support.
It wasn’t all bad news, in the state of Arizona, voters narrowly rejected banning gay marriage in the constitution by 51 percent to 49 percent.
Local pro gay measures were passed in Michigan and Oregon. In Ferndale, Michigan residents overwhelmingly approved non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation by nearly three to one.
Ferndale voters rejected a similar ordinance by just 117 votes in February 2000. This campaign was the third attempt since 1991 to pass a human rights ordinance barring such discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation.
In Corvallis, Oregon, over 60 percent of voters backed amending their city charter to provide equal protection and non-discrimination for all, inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
“The campaigns in Ferndale and Corvallis show the depth of local support for non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Mr Foreman.
“We applaud Ferndale Alliance Valuing Our Residents and Inclusive Corvallis for coordinating these victorious campaigns, which has sent a resounding a message to those who seek to target our community that hatred and intolerance have no place in Ferndale or Corvallis.”
By Marc Shoffman
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