A Big Night, Perhaps the ‘Single Biggest,’ for Advancing Equality for Lesbians and Gay Men

November 7, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

The Dish headline called it the “single biggest night for gay rights in electoral history.” And it’s hard to mess with that assessment. Voters in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota voted in favor of marriage equality.

But beyond those ballot measure victories, Andrew Sullivan reports that gay men and lesbians made up five percent of the electorate, the vast majority of them supporting Obama, “the first president to support marriage equality, and who mentioned gays by name for the first time in the history of victory speeches.”

Then of course, there was the election of Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate, the first openly gay person to serve in that chamber.

But Sullivan’s post provides plenty of detail of the efforts to defeat the equality measures, including the funding and work of the National Organization for Marriage, a religious right outfit that strives to scuttle marriage equality by employing tired tactics of demonization. NOM says its mission is “to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it.” Sullivan highlights a piece from Adam Serwer reporting that NOM “believed that putting forth black and Latino spokespeople, they could discredit the idea of same-sex marriage as a civil rights cause and drive a wedge between two typically Democratic constituencies…".

In Maryland Serwer concluded NOM’s strategy appeared rather wobbly.

Indeed, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Coalition, said part of the success in Maryland involved creating partnerships with other civil liberties groups, such as the NAACP, clergy and businesses, The Washington Post reported.

The New York Times editorial board acknowledged the historic nature of the day, noting that until Nov. 6 “no state had ever legalized same-sex marriage through a ballot referendum.” But in a “historic move that shows the shift in public opinion, voters in Maine and Maryland approved measures giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry by decisive margins. Early returns in Washington State show that voters there have also passed a same-sex marriage initiative. With these victories, opponents of marriage equality will no longer be able to use their tired arguments that the move toward recognition of the fundamental right to marry a person of one’s choosing is something imposed by radical judges and legislators, who are out of touch with the popular will.”

The editorial is likely a bit optimistic, for many religious right outfits like NOM have a way of peddling tiresome arguments for what feels like generations. Nonetheless, yesterday’s outcomes were strong victories for equality and real setbacks to those who still pine for a much more rigid and harmful era.

In Maryland, the state’s governor, Martin O’Malley (pictured) is not one who longs for the 1950s. Gov. O’Malley played a significant role in advancing equality. He championed the Civil Marriage Protection Act through the state’s legislature and made passionate appeals for voters to advance equality.

Earlier this year in an interview with Michelangelo Signorile, O’Malley said an evolution “in the broadest sense among the people of our state,” had occurred. He said a diverse group of people had recognized that the “way forward” was through a “greater and broader respect for equal rights for all.”

Yesterday, Marylanders and many others were of the same thinking. Ever so slowly a nation proclaiming equality for all finds its way forward.

[image via MDGovpics]