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OutServe Magazine | January 19, 2015

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2012 Election: A Trifecta for LGBTs

2012 Election: A Trifecta for LGBTs

2012 election


Commentary by Guest Columnist Maureen McDermott Gill 

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.” – Winston Churchill

The LGBT community in America won an election trifecta in November 2012 with the re-election of President Barack Obama, the election of a record number of openly gay individuals to state and federal offices, and four wins regarding marriage equality. All of this brings to mind Winston Churchill’s famous quip: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”

The consequences of the November 2012 election will roll out for generations. Election results suggest America is experiencing a profound cultural and political resurgence of more tolerant public speech, policies, practices and legislation toward gays, women, racial minorities, and the economically and educationally disadvantaged after a four-decade long freefall to the contrary. Put another way, the election results are a win for cultural and political liberalism, as well as justice and common sense.

Political analysts have been all over the road trying to assign credit for the historic wins of the 2012 election. At an in-depth level, historians and other social scientists will find numerous research opportunities in the myriad of political and cultural pathologies that turned the Grand Old Party into, as Louisiana’s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal put it, “the Stupid Party.”

Research will most likely locate the genesis of the GOP’s devolution in the “Southern strategy” that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan used to good effect, as well as Ronald Reagan’s empowerment of the Moral Majority—which may have parented a fierce brand of pernicious religiosity this writer and others have labeled “Christofascism.”



However, the various demographic groups who significantly drove home the historic wins of this election also deserve, and will no doubt receive, richly textured professional analyses. Over time, such analyses will certainly become the stuff of doctoral dissertations, books, and election legends. Immediately after the election, many analysts credited gays, women, blacks, Latinos and youth with delivering the election for Obama. In fact, some analysts have found the LGBT vote to be the most decisive.

Exit polls indicate President Obama and Governor Romney captured an equal measure (49 percent each) of the straight vote; however, gay, lesbian and bisexual voters overwhelmingly cast their votes for Obama, 76 percent. Despite allegations that Obama didn’t act fast enough or as aggressively as desired in favor of gay rights, the president nonetheless was, as Newsweek magazine declared in its May 21, 2012, issue, America’s “first gay president.” Obama’s record on gay rights shows not only an empathy for the LGBT community but also, as one would hope of a constitutional lawyer, an understanding of the true legal issues.

Analysts at the Williams Institute state polling statistics show the LGBT community played a significant role in the president’s re-election. They say the LGBT vote gave Obama a 2.6 percent edge over Mitt Romney—close to the 3 percent popular vote margin by which he won. Put differently, if no one in this demographic group voted, Obama would have just squeaked by, barely winning the popular vote with less than half of a percentage point. Gallup and Pew surveys also show the importance of the LGBT vote in the presidential race.

Six openly LGBT people were elected to Congress, and Tammy Baldwin made history by becoming the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, one of the most exclusive and powerful clubs in the world. Additionally, voters elected pro-LGBT lawmakers Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown in Ohio. These are significant wins. While it’s true there’s no pro-LGBT majority in Congress, which will make passage of pro-rights legislation difficult, the presence of these LGBT winners inside the Beltway, coupled with the election of gay-friendly liberals like Warren and Sherrod, strengthens the entire LGBT community.

Further, the election of openly gay individuals to the House of Representatives and Senate sends a strong message to the entire country, perhaps even the world (think Uganda), that gay Americans are an influential segment of society who have been given serious fire power by millions of gay and straight Americans.

Americans also elected gays and lesbians in record number in state elections. According to the Victory Institute, 48 states now have openly gay elected officials, Republicans, as well as Democrats. In Wisconsin, Oregon and Colorado, gay and lesbian officials now hold some of the highest positions of power.

Certainly, polling statistics can be massaged in a variety of ways to indicate that any one of the demographic groups who voted overwhelmingly for Obama carried the day, so it seems specious to declare any group more important than another—but this doesn’t mean that we cannot learn something important about each group: how that demographic impacted the election, as well as how the results of the election empower that group in new and dramatic ways.

Rephrased, the LGBT community clearly harvested the most immediate rewards this past election. What may be even more intriguing is how those wins represent a major cultural shift that, because of those wins, will be extremely hard to reverse. First and foremost, the 2012 general election demonstrates that the LGBT community has won the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and has done so—in a historic sense—with stunning speed. LGBT wins at the ballot box would never have happened had millions of Americans not come to the conclusion that homosexuality is a non-issue and matters not in an elected official—and that civil marriage is a fundamental right, and all people should be accorded their choice of partner.

Marriage equality is the most important battle facing the LGBT community; it will be the ultimate game changer. Surveys demonstrate support for same-sex marriage has been growing across the country and across all demographic groups. The most telling sign is the fact that voters in Minnesota defeated a ban on gay marriage while Maine, Maryland and Washington voted for marriage equality. These three states, along with New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont bring the total number of states that recognize same-gender marriages to eight, plus the District of Columbia. More states will likely follow soon.

In Colorado, where Democrats have regained control of both chambers at the state capitol, marriage equality legislation that failed less than a year ago almost certainly will now become law. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn recently instructed his state’s general assembly to send him a same-sex marriage bill. In January 2011, Illinois passed legislation allowing same-sex civil unions.

It’s noteworthy that Maine, Maryland and Washington all allowed some form of civil unions or domestic partnerships prior to voting for marriage equality, as did Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut. This suggests that full marriage equality follows state recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships. Along with Colorado and Illinois, other states that recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships, and thus appear poised to pass same-sex marriage laws in the near future, are California, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

The likelihood that public approval for same-sex marriage will slow or reverse is remote. There’s no great surprise that Gallup polling shows 73 percent of voters between 18 and 29 years of age support same-sex marriage, but polls reveal some genuine surprises among other demographic groups. Blacks historically have been less supportive of same-sex marriage than whites. According to Pew polls conducted in 2011, 49 percent of white voters favored same-sex marriage compared to 36 percent of blacks. However, a recent Edison Research poll showed 51 percent of black voters supported same-sex marriage in their states, compared to 41 percent who did not. Many believe President Obama’s public statement in favor of marriage equality played an important role in influencing this demographic.

Polls also indicate 59 percent of Hispanic voters supported same-sex marriage in their states, while 32 percent were against it, a sharp contrast to earlier surveys (2006 and 2009) that showed a much larger margin of Hispanics opposed to same-sex marriage. Further, more than 50 percent of mainline Protestants now support same-sex marriage, compared to just 32.2 percent seven years ago. Among Evangelical Christians, support increased from 11.9 percent to 20.2 percent. Even more tellingly, the Mormon Church, so famously instrumental in the passage of California’s Proposition 8, has stepped back from its political activism against same-sex marriage.

Shortly after the November election, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will review two profoundly important cases concerning marriage equality, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 ballot measure. In the DOMA case, the Court will decide whether Congress can deprive legally married gay couples of the same health, pension, and tax benefits it grants heterosexual married people. In the Proposition 8 case, the justices will review a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the state’s gay marriage ban when the lower court said the state of California could not take away the same-sex marriage right that had been granted by California’s Supreme Court.

Gay rights advocates hope for a clean sweep in their favor but are also bracing for split decisions. On one hand, it would be welcome if the Court strikes down DOMA, but this could result in a finding that the meaning of marriage is a matter for each state to decide. Punting the ball back to the states could make a state-by-state battle for gay rights an epic battle of time and will.

However, it might be wisest to take the long, painful road and let the arc of history bend slowly. It would be wise to remember the 1973 Roe v. Wade outcome; it’s sweeping decision legalized abortion in every state at a time when few liberal states actually permitted abortion. Roe v. Wade was seen as an overarching legal decision of unmitigated proportions and created a virulent backlash that legitimized the religious right as a potent and fearsome political force. This helped propel strident conservatives into power for decades.

The reasons for this dramatic shift in public acceptance of same-sex marriage are complex, but certainly some of them can be easily identified as changing demographics, cultural maturity, rejection of fear, and the hard work done by the LGBT community itself. An area that is fascinating to explore would be the effect the “normalization of gay” has had on public perception. As more and more Americans encounter gay, lesbian and transgender people at work, in the armed forces, and in the millions of private and personal spaces of day-to-day living, it becomes increasingly more obvious to heterosexuals that gay people bleed and cry and work and die and love their partners, their children, their parents and, yes, their country, just like everyone else.

Even the most powerful propagandists cannot change what people have personally experienced and found to be true. It is the chronic exposure to those who were once presumed different—and found to not be so different—that most dramatically changes public perception. This method of change is what largely happened in the black civil rights movement, too. Segregated, blacks were seen as vastly different, and segregation maintained that difference. However, once integrated and standing on the same day-to-day playing fields of life as white people, blacks showed that they were just people, too.

Of course, civil rights legislation mandated a level playing field, and that was certainly necessary, but once put on the field together, it was soon learned that the game of life is played just about the same by everyone. In similar fashion, the integration of openly gay individuals throughout every layer of American culture has been a powerful force in changing perceptions; each and every openly gay American has been a foot soldier in the battle for equality.

Gays, like blacks, have become deeply entwined in the warp and woof of the American tapestry, and those remarkable threads cannot be removed; they add to the tensile strength of the national fabric, and, over time, it becomes unimaginable that the cloth of citizenship could have ever been woven without them.

It seems safe to assert that the LGBT community has become one of the most important power brokers in America. Politicians who fail to support gay rights in the future will do so at their own political peril. This is vastly important, not only for the LGBT community, but also for the future of all other groups at high risk for abuse and discrimination in America, such as women, minorities and the poor. Having emerged as a muscular voting bloc that refuses to be ignored, the LGBT community has marginalized the most intolerant voices that have, for far too long, exerted a malevolent influence over federal and state politicians. While this is only one brake on extremism, it is an important one, one that is profoundly changing American history.


Maureen McDermott Gill is a columnist, author and public speaker. The author of January Moon, Maureen is also a regular OpEd columnist at the York County (Maine) Journal Tribune and contributing columnist at LGBTQ Her second work of fiction, March Storm, will be published in early 2013, and what she calls a “history book for adults,” Daylight & Déjà vu, will follow mid-year. Email her at and visit, or  follow her on Twitter @windycityauthor. The opinions expressed in this column are hers alone and do not necessarily represent the view of OutServe-SLDN or OutServe Magazine.