Election wrap-up I: The candidates
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dozens of openly LGBT candidates won election to public offices across the U.S. on Election Day, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. The group, which endorsed a record-breaking 111 candidates in 2008, said more than 70 percent of its endorsed candidates had won their races.
Jared Polis is the first openly gay man elected to the U.S. Congress as a non-incumbent.
“This was a watershed election. Our government became more representative and our democracy became stronger. As we near the 30th anniversary of the death of Harvey Milk, it’s enormously gratifying to see his dream realized in so many brave men and women heeding the call to run for office, and doing so openly, honestly and unafraid,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund.
Milk, a San Francisco Supervisor who was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S., was shot to death in San Francisco City Hall in November 1978. Milk urged his contemporaries to embrace the power of electoral politics as a path to change. [Ed. Note: “Milk,”a biopic about the groundbreaking public servant starring Sean Penn opens in theaters Nov. 26.]
Among the winners in 2008:
• Kate Brown became the first openly LGBT Secretary of State in the U.S., and the second-highest ranking elected official in the state of Oregon. Brown is openly bisexual.
• Sam Adams was elected mayor of Portland, Ore., earlier in the year. He will become the first openly gay mayor of one of the 30 largest U.S. cities when he’s sworn in next year.
• Jason Bartlett, who came out as gay in his current term, was reelected to the Connecticut State House. He is only the second openly gay African-American state legislator in the nation.
• Thomas Robichaux and Seth Bloom, both gay men, simultaneously became the first-ever openly LGBT elected officials in the state of Louisiana when they were elected to the Orleans Parish School Board in an October primary.
• John Perez became the first openly gay person of color elected to the California Assembly.
• Lupe Valdez was reelected to a second term as sheriff of Dallas County, Texas. First elected in 2004, Valdez was the first woman, the first Latina and the first out lesbian ever to win the post.
• Kevin Beckner won a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission in Florida, unseating an anti-gay incumbent and becoming the first openly gay man elected in the county.
• Rebecca Kaplan will be the first out lesbian to serve on the Oakland, Calif., City Council after winning her race.
In the closing days of the election season Victory Fund candidates in Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina and elsewhere were subject to gay-baiting political attacks.
Garnet Lewis, who was seeking a seat in the Michigan State House, was subject to an onslaught of anti-gay attacks in print and radio media outlets during the final week of her campaign. She lost her race.
Full election results are available at www.victoryfund.org.
Election wrap-up II: Ballot battles
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In addition to the closely watched, ultimately unsuccessful effort to defeat anti-marriage amendment Proposition 8, passed by California voters by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, LGBT communities in several states faced other critical ballot measures.
Florida’s Amendment 2, which excludes same-sex couples from a constitutional definition of marriage, was approved by a vote of 62 to 38 percent — a narrow margin since constitutional amendments require a vote of 60 percent for passage in Florida. In Arizona, Proposition 102 was approved to amend the state constitution to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.
Arkansas voters approved a ballot measure that prohibits unmarried individuals or couples from fostering or adopting children, effectively excluding gay and lesbian individuals and same-sex couples from the pool of adoptive and foster parents.
The lone bright spot was Connecticut, where voters defeated a call for a constitutional convention promoted by groups seeking to eliminate recently conferred marriage rights for same-sex couples. Without the convention, gay marriage foes have no vehicle for rolling back the law.
At press time, the matter of same-sex marriage was not completely settled in California despite the election outcome.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a writ petition before the California Supreme Court on Nov. 5 urging the court to invalidate Proposition 8. The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution’s core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group: lesbian and gay Californians.
Proposition 8 also improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of protecting the equal protection rights of minorities, the rights groups assert. According to the California Constitution, such radical changes to the organizing principles of state government cannot be made by simple majority vote through the initiative process, but instead must, at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Equality California and six same-sex couples who did not marry before the election but would like to be able to marry now.
“If the voters approved an initiative that took the right to free speech away from women, but not from men, everyone would agree that such a measure conflicts with the basic ideals of equality enshrined in our constitution. Proposition 8 suffers from the same flaw. It removes a protected constitutional right — here, the right to marry — not from all Californians, but just from one group of us,” said Jenny Pizer, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal. “That’s too big a change in the principles of our constitution to be made just by a bare majority of voters.”
Election wrap-up III: The courts
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Progressive constituencies including the LGBT community made the appointment of judges a key issue in the race for the presidency.
In a blog entry posted the day after the general election People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert observed, “Looking at yesterday’s results, it’s incontrovertible that the election delivered a sweeping mandate for President-elect Obama to appoint federal judges who are committed to core constitutional values: justice, equality and opportunity for all.
“In the election the public rejected the efforts of the right wing to stack the federal courts with ideological jurists like Justices Scalia and Alito often called “strict constructionists.” Rather the public selected now President-elect Obama after his repeated commitment to support compassionate judges who are faithful to the Constitution, its values, its principles and its history.
“In past years, we’ve seen Republican candidates motivate their base with pledges to appoint judges to the bench who bring a conservative political ideology to their decisions. This year, it was progressives who were most able to rally support on judicial issues.”
In another entry she said, “It’s time to put to rest the notion that the Supreme Court is only an issue for conservatives. This week, voters had the Supreme Court in mind when they chose the next president, and they elected someone who has said he will nominate justices who will protect their personal freedoms and ensure every American equal access to justice.
“They said it was time for justices who will keep faith with our core constitutional values of liberty, equality and opportunity for all. Americans said it was time for a change, time for judges and justices who will make decisions based on the law and the Constitution, not on a political agenda.”