By Steve Charing
As you know, the electrifying Democratic nationwide election triumphs saw the takeover of both the House of Representatives and the Senate and the ouster of a popular but anti-gay governor here. But members of the lgbt community should not begin making wedding preparations just yet.
To be sure, these results have ushered in a new era of hope for the lgbt community, families and allies in that the Democratic victories will foster a better chance of moving towards the ultimate goal of equality—one that had evolved from merely tolerance and acceptance.
The Dems’ re-capturing the Senate and House of Representatives put on hold, at least for the next two years, the Karl Rove-driven gay-bashing politics that served the GOP so well in 2004. We no longer have to deal with such homophobes as Rick Santorum, John Hostetler and George Allen.
But the good news surrounding these ousters is tempered by the fact that their replacements, as well as newly elected conservative Democrats, are all opposed to same-sex marriage with some supporting a constitutional amendment. There will be a big push for the new Congress to avoid advocating a left-wing agenda that would include such third rail issues as "gay marriage" and gun control so that the party can be viewed as centrist heading into the 2008 presidential cycle.
The rebuke of Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi by the Democratic caucus by voting in Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer to the majority leader post over Pelosi’s personal pick, Rep. John Murtha, signaled that the liberal Pelosi will not be able to run Congress from that direction.
On the other hand, with congressional committees being chaired by Democrats, no constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage will see the light of day. Instead, the transgender-inclusive Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which has languished interminably in Congress, may actually move forward according to openly gay, re-elected representative Barney Frank (MA). Moreover, the issue of the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy may get some hearings on the effectiveness of the policy.
This election saw, for the first time ever, the voters in a state (Arizona) rejecting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, seven other states passed such an amendment, but some of the margins were tighter than expected, revealing minute progress on that issue. In addition, several pro-lgbt governors were elected, such as Elliot Spitzer in New York, who outwardly supports same-sex marriage.
In Maryland, the victory for Martin O’Malley will return a more lgbt-supportive governor to Annapolis. He has been a constant visitor and speaker at Baltimore Gay Pride and has worked closely with the lgbt community. While he does not embrace same-sex marriage, he would oppose any statewide effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would ban it.
Mr. O’Malley has been fully behind lgbt causes since his days on the city council and as mayor, and he favored the addition of transgendered individuals to the city’s anti-discrimination law. He also supports other pro-lgbt measures, including domestic partner benefits for state employees.
Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., a staunch opponent of equal rights for same-sex couples, was never a governor with whom any headway towards equality could be realized. His veto of the hard-fought, fair-minded Medical Decision Making Act renewed suspicions that he was too cozy with the religious right.
"Gov. Ehrlich vetoed bills important to the lgbt community, and nothing else could have been accomplished without the capacity to override his vetoes," explained Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland (http://www.equalitymaryland.org/), the state’s largest lgbt civil rights organization.
"Martin O'Malley, for the lgbt community, is synonymous with possibilities," Mr. Furmansky told Baltimore OUTloud. "We're very excited to have a leader like our Governor-elect who will work with us to take lgbt rights to a new level."
Ben Cardin’s win for the U.S, Senate over the anti-gay Michael Steele was significant. Mr. Cardin opposed the failed Federal Marriage Amendment and is against a similar constitutional amendment in Maryland. He is also a co-sponsor of the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." As in the case of Governor-elect O’Malley, Mr. Cardin opposes same-sex marriage but supports some form of civil union arrangement.
Mr. Steele, by contrast, participated in an anti-gay rally in Annapolis and spoke disparagingly of same-sex marriage to religious leaders. There is nothing in his social conservative make-up to suggest he would have been an ally of the lgbt community. His defeat was welcome news to gay activists.
Several openly gay candidates won their elections to the General Assembly. Rich Madaleno will become the first ever openly gay senator in Maryland. Democrat delegates Maggie McIntosh, Heather Mizeur and Anne Kaiser were re-elected. Tim Quinn put up a good fight against two Republicans in the conservative Eastern Shore but fell short.
And Ken Ulman became the new Howard County Executive emphasizing" inclusion" and "diversity" in his acceptance speech on election night.
We anticipate the ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals on the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit next year and will be watchful of a potential backlash in the General Assembly. Once again, the lgbt community may have to play defense as the fear of "gay marriage" can cause even supportive politicians’ knees to buckle.
If this election taught us anything, governing from the center of the political spectrum, as opposed to lurching to the left or right, is key to a winning strategy. That is the way to keep swing and independent voters on your side. Accordingly, nothing in these results suggests any significant movement towards same-sex marriage down the road but some progress on other pro-lgbt issues is more possible today than it was on November 6.