Last November, when Barack Obama swept into office as a one-man embodiment of the nation’s promise of equality, many LGBT Americans awoke the next morning feeling like orphaned children of the Democratic Party. Despite his historic victory, antigay ballot measures passed in California, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas devastated the community.
One year later, LGBT activists had that sinking feeling again as Tuesday night bled into Wednesday morning and Maine’s same-sex marriage battle ended in a loss for equality advocates.
The reality that Maine voters repealed a state law granting gay marriage rights was partially blunted by news that voters in Kalamazoo, Mich., upheld the city’s antidiscrimination ordinance. Early results also suggested Washington voters might be on their way to greatly expanding the state’s domestic-partnership law, though the final tally was not available at the time of this posting.
But the theme that reverberated throughout the night nationally was “It’s the economy, stupid.” Democrats suffered stinging losses in gubernatorial races in both Virginia and New Jersey, with over half the voters in each state saying they were very worried about the economy.
In fact, the only Democratic win for the night came in a congressional race where right-wing ideologues tossed the pro-gay Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, to make room for an antigay Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman.
Democrat Bill Owens managed to pull out a win much to the surprise of many, including the National Organization for Marriage, which joined Tuesday’s stampede to take credit for Hoffman’s anticipated win.
Around midday, NOM circulated a poll of 318 voters in New York's 23rd congressional district that showed 52% opposed gay marriage, 35% favored it, and 13% were undecided. Their contention was that Scozzafava’s pro-gay-marriage stance had sealed her fate in the race.
But that’s not what Hoffman’s main adviser, Nelson Warfield, told Elizabeth Benjamin of the New York Daily News.
“Warfield rejected the hypothesis that Scozzafava's ‘yes’ votes on gay marriage or support of abortion rights played a big role in her demise,” wrote Benjamin. “In the end, Warfield said, it was economic issues like Scozzafava's support of the Obama stimulus package and her pro-labor positions, like backing the Employee Free Choice Act, that spurred the Club for Growth to drop six figures on Hoffman.”
As Benjamin noted, NOM did pour $113,000 into Hoffman’s campaign, but that was chump change compared to the nearly $1 million from the Club for Growth that gave Hoffman’s candidacy its legs.
Once Scozzafava dropped out of the race, most analysts concluded that Hoffman had the edge over Owens. But Scozzafava’s surprise endorsement of Owens no doubt contributed to his win, suggesting that her popularity as a pro-gay Republican was still potent enough to help swing the election.
While same-sex marriage did not surface as a key wedge issue in these races, the fact remains that insofar as referendums are concerned, voters have yet to approve equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians in a single state.
Following the loss of Proposition 8 in California, many equality advocates soured on then-candidate Obama’s unwillingness to take a strong stand against stripping people of their right to marry the person of their choosing.
Tuesday, longtime LGBT activist David Mixner wrote a blistering blog post that impugned President Obama for once again failing to speak out decisively for equality.
“Tragically,” Mixner wrote, “if we lose closely, that defeat almost can be laid at the steps of the White House for their refusal to stand by our side in the battle for freedom.”
Bloggers Jon Aravosis and Andrew Sullivan also marveled at the lack of help offered by the Democratic National Committee and Obama's spinoff arm of the DNC, Organizing for America.
"It is staggering to me that the message discipline from the DNC is so tight that they even forbade OFA from telling Obama-supporters which way to vote on the referendum," wrote Sullivan.
"Tell us again why any gay voter should help the DNC ever again?" wondered Aravosis.
Their call to arms might foretell a rising anger among LGBT citizens over the Obama administration's seemingly tacit acceptance of a separate and unequal status for gay relationships.