The 2012 election ends on a high note as Obama is re-elected and Tammy Baldwin takes the seat as the first out lesbian in the Senate.
After a long and often contentious election campaign during which neither President Obama nor Gov. Romney mentioned LGBT people and marriage equality was never raised in any of the debates, election night proved surprisingly historic for the LGBT community.
For lesbians, it was ground-breaking. As CNN reported on election night, “Tammy Baldwin made history Tuesday night—twice.” Baldwin became both the first woman ever elected to the Senate from Wisconsin as well as the first openly lesbian or gay person ever elected to the Senate.
Baldwin, 50, a member of the House of Representatives from Wisconsin’s 78th District from 1993 to 1999, and then from the 2nd District from 1999 to the present, was previously the first woman ever elected to Congress from the state of Wisconsin.
The popular Baldwin, who has been re-elected overwhelmingly in each of her terms in the House, has been a significant force in Wisconsin politics. While Baldwin has proven herself to be a strong and progressive advocate for Wisconsonites, she has been an equally strong advocate for LGBT rights from within the halls of Congress.
In 1993, Baldwin spoke out against then-President Bill Clinton’s acquiescence to the military when he agreed to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell’s writing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that was enforced from December 1993 through September 2011.
In 1994, Baldwin proposed marriage equality in Wisconsin. In 1995, she proposed legalizing domestic partnerships in Wisconsin, although that law would not be passed until 2009. In 2003, she was one of only 133 members of Congress to oppose the war in Iraq. Since 2005 she has been a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She has consistently been named one of the six most liberal members of the House throughout her tenure. In 2007, she co-sponsored a bill to impeach then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
Baldwin has long advocated single-payer health care reform and has been involved in health care issues for over a decade in the House. Two major bills she wrote were passed: the Reeve Paralysis Act, which provides funding for disabilities related to paralysis, and the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Act which provides funding for early detection screenings for low-income women.
Her strong support for issues related to women, including fair pay and acknowledgment of sexual violence against women has won her endorsements from a myriad of advocacy groups.
Baldwin ran uncontested in the Democratic primary as she ran for the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl. Her Republican opponent in the general election was Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin, former Secretary of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush and former Republican presidential candidate in 2008. Baldwin initially trailed the popular Thompson, who had won an unprecedented four terms as governor, but Baldwin won the Senate seat with a four point margin, 51-47.
After winning the election, Baldwin told reporters that the Senate was becoming “more reflective of America.” (Although a record number of women have been elected to the Senate and the addition of Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts will raise that number, there will still only be 19 women in the Senate after the January 2013 inauguration. Women comprise 52.8 percent of the U.S. population.)
Baldwin, who had previously said she wasn’t running to make history but to make a difference, noted, “Having a seat at the table matters. We’re certainly not there yet, but this will be a change that moves us forward.”
Baldwin also explained that “People see our country and our states moving toward full equality in many respects. When you have legislative bodies that look more like America, that happens.”
Baldwin’s election wasn’t the only groundbreaking event for LGBT people on election night. A total of 118 openly gay and lesbian candidates were elected to local, state and federal positions, according to the Victory Fund, which promotes lesbian and gay candidates for public office.
In addition to the election of queer candidates, the number states legalizing same-sex marriage increased, due to various ballot initiatives.
Minnesota voters became the first in the nation to vote against a proposed same-sex marriage ban in the state. In the past 20 years, 32 states have voted to ban same-sex marriage in the U.S. with similar proposals. Amendment 1 as it was called, lost by a slender, but defining margin when the votes were finally tabulated the day after the election, pushing Minnesota into the record books.
The Minnesota vote does not approve the right to marry for lesbians and gay men, but it does mean that the state constitution will not be amended to include language defining marriage as between “one man and one woman.”
Proponents of marriage equality in the state said that the vote means the right for lesbians and gay men to marry will definitely be the next step.
Marriage equality itself was on the ballot in both Maryland and Maine and both states voted for the measure.
Maine had previously voted to ban same-sex marriage in 2009. The new ballot initiative, called Question 1, was succinct. It asked voters, “Do you want to allow the state of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”
The final vote tally was 54 percent for marriage equality, 46 percent against.
In Maryland, the Civil Marriage Protection Act was signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley on March 1, 2012 after it was passed by the state legislature. Then the question of whether or not to approve marriage equality was put to voters in the Nov. 6 election. In a narrow 52-48 vote, Marylanders approved Question 6, making Maryland one of the first states to approve same-sex marriage via ballot initiative in the U.S.
Maryland had previously banned same-sex marriage, but various lawsuits against the ban, including one instigated by the ACLU since 2004 had brought the issue before both local and federal courts.
The marriage equality vote was narrow–52-48, but goes into effect January 1, 2013.
On Nov. 8, Washington state became the third in the trio of states to approve marriage equality. As votes continued to be tallied (Washington state has mail-in ballots), marriage-equality opponents acknowledged defeat as votes indicated Referendum 74 had maintained a plurality.
As in Maryland, Referendum 74 asked voters to either approve or reject a state law passed by legislators in February and signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Feb. 13, 2012. The law was supposed to go into effect on June 7, 2012, but marriage equality opponents forced a voter referendum.
The Washington ballot initiative received major corporate support, including donations from Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.
The election results in Washington have yet to be certified, but certification is expected by December 5, 2012. Same-sex marriage will be legal the following day.
Same-sex marriage is also legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Maryland had already recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states prior to the vote on Nov.6.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in California on June 16, 2008 by the state Supreme Court, but was rescinded on Nov. 5, 2008 after Prop.8, which redefined marriage as soley between one man and one woman passed overwhelmingly.
Lawsuits against Prop. 8 may reach the U.S. Supreme Court this term. Same-sex marriages performed between the initial approval of same-sex marriage and the Prop.8 rescinding of marriage rights were found to be of legal standing by the courts.
American Foundation for Equal Rights (AmFER), which works toward marriage equality was succinct on the election day votes, sending out emails which began: Fairness and Equality Win Big in Election.