Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Maryland: A Blue Oasis in a Red Desert

By Steve Charing

When the elections dust settled following the “shellacking” as characterized by President Obama, it is clear that progress on LGBT rights at the national level took a step backwards, perhaps several steps. And we didn’t help matters as an estimated 31 percent of LGBT folks voted Republican this year compared to 28 percent in ’08.

I am not certain that these numbers are completely accurate, but if true, it means more LGBT Americans voted for the GOP, ignoring the fact that the party continues to remand us to second-class citizenship. Sure, there were those who wanted instant gratification from President Obama and decided to “punish” him. He is to blame, according to critics, and Congress is as well, for not fast-tracking key LGBT legislation.

Obama campaigned on a pro-LGBT rights platform, and aside from a record-shattering number of LGBT appointments in his administration and the passage of a comprehensive hate crimes bill, we still have ENDA languishing in the Congress, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is very much in doubt thanks to John McCain and his band of merry bigots.
In retrospect, if Obama was dedicated to our issues, he could have pushed these initiatives when he had the window of opportunity knowing the mid-terms would likely be crippling, as they tend to be.

It seems that a third of our community would rather delay these rights indefinitely out of anger with the President. Do they really think they would have a better shot at success with a party that essentially despises us? Talk about voting against one’s own interests.

So there we have it. New House Speaker John Boehner with the gaudy score of zero out of a hundred by the Human Rights Campaign grading system will be keeping our issues in the closet. So forget any progress on the national stage for at least the next two years. We may even have to play defense with talk of another Federal Marriage Amendment rearing its ugly head.

Maryland, thankfully, was a different story. Anti-equality Bob Ehrlich saw his political career take a devastating hit as Governor O’Malley “shellacked” him by 13 percentage points—double the margin in 2006. For our community it means that should marriage equality or gender identity protections bills ever make it out of committee and passed by the legislature, O’Malley vowed to sign it.

There are a significant number of skeptics, including Attorney General Gansler, who feel such legislation will not take place. He is of the mindset that only the courts will provide that level of equality. We will see. But had Ehrlich regained his old job, it was a certainty that nothing would succeed legislatively for our community.

Bucking the trend nationwide, most other Democratic incumbents retained their seats in the legislature. But the one exception, Representative Frank Kratovil (1st Congressional District), could not hold on and lost to homophobic right wing extremist Republican Andy Harris. Hopefully, after the next two years, the voters in that district will wake up.

On a more positive note, we will no longer have to deal with one of the most anti-gay legislators of modern times, Alex X. Mooney. He was finally defeated after declining margins of victories in his past three campaigns by a pro-equality former Mayor of Frederick, Ron Young.
There remains other homophobes in the State House—Nancy Jacobs, Donald Dwyer, and Emmett Burns come to mind. We’re not out of the woods yet. But our chances were given a boost by the election of three LGBT candidates: Luke Clippinger, Mary Washington and Bonnie Cullison. They now join four other openly gay legislators giving Maryland one of the highest number of out gays and lesbians to hold statewide office.

In the case of Mary Washington, her victory was historic in that she became the first out African-American lesbian to serve in the Maryland legislature and only the second one in the nation.
Also historic was the election of Byron Macfarlane to Howard County’s Register of Wills. By winning this tight contest that was decided by counting absentee and provisional ballots ten days after the election, Macfarlane became the first openly gay county-wide official in Maryland history. He defeated a 6-term Republican incumbent Kay Hartleb.

Despite a few disappointing exceptions this election, Maryland remains a blue state oasis in a national desert of red. As we head towards Thanksgiving, that is something to appreciate.

Photo by Lisa Polyak

Photo caption: Our new LGBT caucus--from left: Sen. Rich Madaleno, Delegates Anne Kaiser, Heather Mizeur, Mary Washington, Maggie McIntosh, Luke Clippinger and Bonnie Cullison.

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