November 05, 2008
A uniter, not a divider
Posted by: Chris
What a historic and incredible evening this has been. Whatever differences you may have with Barack Obama, his landslide election tonight as the next president of the United States is a remarkable statement about the progress America has made in overcoming racial differences.
Obama will not only be the first black president of the U.S., but the first leader of African descent ever elected in a country outside that continent. What's more, Obama was elected with a record of support for GLBT rights that eclipses that of any serious national candidate before him, including John Kerry four years ago, as well as Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats he defeated in the primaries.
In Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight, just as in the 2004 keynote address to the Democratic convention that launched him as a national political figure, and just as he did throughout the primary and general election, the president-elect specifically included "gays and straights" as among the groups of Americans he sought to unite.
But even as gay rights activists celebrate Obama's historic election, there are sobering reminders from across the country about the long, tough road ahead before we overcome differences based on sexual orientation. In John McCain's home state of Arizona, where four years ago voters rejected an expansive ban on legal recognition for same-sex and other unmarried couples, a more limited constitutional amendment banning gays from marrying is heading toward passage.
In Florida, even without the support of Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, voters have overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, even though state law already accomplishes that same end. Florida is also the only state that prohibits gays from adopting children, but voters in Arkansas, the state of where I was born, today have voted in favor of a ban on adoption and foster parenting by adults "cohabitating outside of marriage," meaning gays or straights in unmarried relationships.
At least in Connecticut, where the state supreme court last month ruled in favor of gay marriage, voters have rejected by a constitutional convention that would have opened up the possibility of an amendment overturning the court ruling.
Here are the results as of 1 a.m. ET:
- Calfornia Prop. 8 (constitutional amendment overturning Supreme Court gay marriage ruling): Yes (53.1%). No (46.9%). Precincts reporting: 25.2%
- Arizona Prop 102 (constitutional amendment banning gay marriage): Yes (56.5%). No (43.5%). Precincts reporting: 91.2%
- Florida Amendment 2 (constitutional amendment banning gay marriage): Yes (62.2%). No (37.8%). Precincts reporting: 98%
- Arkansas Prop. 1 (banning adoption and foster parenting by unmarried couples): Yes (55.2%). No (44.8%). Precincts reporting: 63%
- Connecticut Question 1 (constitutional convention): Yes (59%). No (41%). Precincts reporting: 90%
The results in California are especially devastating, if they hold. Voters in the nation's largest state seem poised to take away the newly minted right to marry won in the landmark state supreme court ruling just last year. Despite weeks and weeks of images of happy gay couples tying the knot, a majority seem prepared to take it all away -- and even more depressingly, the margin of defeat may come from the same African-American and Latino voters who overwhelmingly supported Obama's message of unity and change.
These results should also signal something very important to those who will work on gay rights issues with the incoming Obama administration and strengthened Democratic congressional leadership. Gays throughout this country are living in states that are denying their basic freedoms by refusing relationship recognition -- in many cases writing that discrimination into their constitutions.
Relationship recognition has therefore emerged as an issue far more important at the federal level than low-hanging fruit like workplace protections and hate crimes -- and effects numbers that dwarf those impacted by the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military.
It's unlikely the Democrats will ever have a stronger majority in the House, and may well be near their peak in the Senate. President-Elect Obama will take office with a mandate unlike any since Ronald Reagan in 1980. The time is now to address the core principles of the gay rights movement, which Obama himself embraced during the course of the long, two-year campaign.
- Repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, at least that portion that blocks federal recognition of marriage licenses issued by states like Massachusetts, California (at least for now), and Connecticut (as of next week).
- Recognition equal to that for married couples for same-sex couples in civil unions (in states that offer them), or can otherwise demonstrate an enduring, long-term commitment.
- Uniting American Families Act, extending to gay Americans the right to sponsor foreign partners for citizenship the way heterosexual citizens can their fiances and spouses.
Obama was right, of course, when he said in his rousing speech tonight in Chicago, "This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change." For those who care about taking full advantage of this opportunity to win equality for GLBT Americans, this is the kind of "change" we need to believe in.
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