Analysis: A new dawn for LGBT America

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

After an extraordinary US election result with voters in three states passing equal marriage rights for gay couples, Scott Roberts sums up the highlights of an incredible week for America.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the United States entered into a new and exciting era for LGBT equality. Barack Obama, a president who had placed his record on equality centre stage as part of his re-election campaign, was comfortably returned to the White House having performed better than most of the polls had predicted. The Republicans were left reeling in the process. Things looked bad for Mitt Romney early on in the evening when former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee started pontificating about why it had been hard for the challenger in a Fox News interview.

Of wider electoral significance were the decisions of Maine, Maryland and the state of Washington to approve equal marriage after voters supported the measure in public ballots. In Minnesota, where same-sex marriage is banned by statute, a referendum to cement this ban into the state’s constitution was also defeated. The story of the night was that a majority of Americans voted in favour of advancing equality wherever it was on the ballot.

Over the years, campaigners fighting for marriage equality have faced an arduous battle in maintaining their gains. With the exception of Minnesota the other three states’ legislatures had already approved the measure, but in each case, a coalition of wealthy, evangelical Christian anti-gay movements felt the need to go to war over the issue, believing they could change the cultural trajectory of the country.

As I mentioned in my pre-election analysis piece, social conservatives who oppose equal marriage are now being squeezed politically by an increasingly progressive US electorate. Until now, the arguments used by opponents to defy equal marriage supporters of their objectives was that their aims could only be achieved through ‘activist judges’ and ‘liberal lawmakers’ – never in a popular vote.

For them, institutions of sovereign democracy, such as state legislatures, were always derided as ‘not representing the views of the people’ when it came to equal marriage. The anti-gay National Organisation for Marriage (NOM) had believed that it could repeat its 2007 victory in California, when same-sex marriages were halted at the passing of Proposition 8, a referendum that endorsed a state constitutional ban.

However on Wednesday morning, voters, who NOM and other equal marriage opponents had always argued were the only people who should be allowed to decide upon the measure failed to give them the verdict they were hoping for.

Force to eat humble pie, NOM’s president, Brian Brown said: “Our opponents and some in the media will attempt to portray the election results as a changing point in how Americans view gay marriage, but that is not the case.”

Yet all the statistical evidence suggests the opposite. Support for equal marriage continues to increase.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said it was now obvious that the opponents had run out of spurious political arguments:

“The anti-gay opposition kept moving the goal posts and had as their last talking point that we could not win a popular vote [on Tuesday] voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and, all signs suggest, Washington proved them wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.”

It was also a night of individual LGBT political triumphs.

In Wisconsin, veteran congresswoman Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the US Senate and at least five other openly gay Democrats were elected to House seats.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, equal marriage opponents failed in a bid to oust one of the state Supreme Court justices who ruled in favour of equal marriage in 2009.

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBT organisation, summed up the night succinctly

“When the history books are written, 2012 will be remembered as the year when LGBT Americans won decisively at the ballot box. The dreams of millions of fair-minded Americans were realised as discrimination crumbled and equality prevailed”.