BY Patrick Guerriero
September 09 2009 8:00 AM ET
Consider the tale of Danny and Marilyn. State representative Danny Carroll of Iowa and Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado were extremist right-wing politicians, spewing hatred without fear of retribution. Although Danny and Marilyn once attacked gay people at every turn, this tale has a happy ending.
As an Iowa Republican leader, Danny was a rising star who used his opposition to LGBT equality to rally his base and fill his campaign coffers. Danny blocked every piece of pro-LGBT legislation and sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. Something had to be done to stop him. Enter LGBT and progressive Iowans who joined together during the 2006 election to take out Danny and others and replace them with pro-equality legislators. They teamed up to lay a new political path for Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state, and defeated Danny and his cohorts. Fast-forward to today. Iowa now has statewide safe school and inclusive nondiscrimination protections and is the first heartland state with marriage equality. This tale could have had a very different ending, but it didn’t thanks to a comprehensive, multiyear electoral and legislative strategy.
And what about Marilyn? Marilyn was what Danny could have become had he not been stopped at the state level -- a member of the U.S. Congress. As the proud sponsor of the vicious antifamily Federal Marriage Amendment, Marilyn built a national reputation as a brutally anti-LGBT politician. And like Danny, she used her anti-equality message to assemble a war chest. While Marilyn made herself the poster child for anti-LGBT politics, donors and activists set their sights on her, growing savvier and more determined with each election to end her reign. Her margin of victory fell from 13 points in 2002 to six in 2004 to two points in 2006. The more Marilyn promoted her divisive political agenda, the more she lost track of issues that really mattered in her district. Finally, in 2008, she was voted out, joining the ranks of ousted U.S. senator Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum -- proving that persistence certainly does pay off and gay bashing does not. And the reward? A new Colorado congresswoman who has already voted for federal hate-crimes legislation.
This is the lesson of Danny and Marilyn: A focused, disciplined political strategy results in equality legislation and places former in the titles of anti-LGBT legislators. And though knocking out bad guys is sexy and fun, the work can’t stop on Election Night. Lobbying for legislative action must begin the next day. Across the nation this strategy has changed the political landscape -- state by state and race by race. Five years ago only Massachusetts offered us the freedom to marry. In just the past year alone we added five more states to that list. Meanwhile, Colorado, Nevada, and Wisconsin have blazed trails on basic protections for same-sex couples even though they have state bans on marriage equality.
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