As we inch closer to celebrating the arrival of the New Year by popping that champagne bottle open, let’s take a glance back at the year that was… 2012… at it’s monumental stance in the history of the Gay Rights Movement. There were many ‘firsts’ this year as milestones were set and barriers were broken down in the LGBTQ community’s quest for unfettered equality. Listed ahead are but a few of those achievements
President Obama ‘Came Out’ for Marriage Equality
For the first time ever in our country’s vast political history, a sitting U.S. President has come out in support of same-sex marriage. On May 9th, 2012, in an interview with ABC News from the Oval Office, President Barack Obama made history when he made the following statement:
“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
Milestone achieved. For many years, LGBTQ leaders have been trying to draw parallels between, for example, marriage equality and women’s rights, interracial marriage, and the African-American Civil Rights movements. The one stumbling block, however, was the lack of support from the leader of the free world. America, after all, is supposed to be the shining beacon of hope and freedom for the world yet LGBTQ Americans were treated as second class human beings when their own President would not acknowledge their right for human dignity and equality.
Not anymore… that barrier has been shattered. Because of this announcement, President Obama has been vastly credited for tilting polls in favor of marriage equality. For the first time ever, two community’s with deep religious foundations (African-Americans and Latinos) now favor same-sex marriage. Also, for the first time ever, voters made a commanding statement towards LGBT Civil Rights. Which brings me to the second milestone…
Voters Approved Same-Sex Marriage in Three States
On November 6th, 2012, Maine, Washington, and Maryland voters approved marriage equality referendums in their states. Granted, same-sex marriage was already legal in six states and Washington D.C. prior to the election, but what makes their addition to that list so impressive was that, for the first time ever, marriage equality was accepted and installed by voters. Up until that point, same-sex marriage was approved by either state legislatures or the courts. Previously, when it had been brought up to a vote, like Proposition 8 in California for example, voters had steadfastly rejected the very notion of marriage equality. Voters were now confirming what opinion polls had been showing all year, that American’s were increasingly accepting of the right of same-sex couples to marry. A tremendous milestone had once again been set.
Queer Politicians Made a Statement
LGBTQ politicians have been around for decades now, from San Francisco’s Harvey Milk in the 1970′s to Obama’s appointment of Nancy Sutley to his cabinet in 2008. Yet two more queer politicians broke additional barriers in this year’s election when, for the first time ever, an openly Lesbian Senator was elected to the U.S. Senate, and a trans-woman from New Hampshire won that state’s house representative seat.
Although the U.S. House of Representatives has seen it’s share of openly LGBTQ politicians, the same cannot be said for the U.S. Senate.
That was until Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin won her state’s Senatorial seat. She not only became the first openly Gay candidate to win a U.S Senatorial seat, but she also became the first woman elected to represent the state of Wisconsin in the Senate. “People… see our country and our states moving toward full equality in many respects,” Baldwin proclaimed in her victorious election night speech. She then added, “this is a big day for Gay women in America, and really, for all communities who aren’t the typical white, wealthy men elected to Congress.“
Senator-elect Baldwin wasn’t the only LGBTQ politician making waves on election night. Stacie Laughton of New Hampshire made a monumental statement when she became the first openly-transgendered candidate elected to public office. Unfortunately, after winning New Hampshire’s state representative seat, it was discovered she had a criminal background. Her candidacy became consumed in controversy and as a result, on November 27th, 2012, she resigned from her representative-elect seat. Her election, nonetheless, proved American voters were increasingly willing to look past a candidate’s sexual orientation when electing a candidate for public office. Yet another barrier was torn down.
Can LGBTQ Victories Continue in 2013?
The New Year is yet to arrive, however, 2013 is already starting to shape up as another historic year for the Gay Rights Movement. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take on two challenges to anti-gay laws… California’s Proposition 8, and the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional and struck down by the federal appeals court, however, supporters and opponents of California’s ban of same-sex marriage will have one final battle before the Justices, with a final ruling expected in June 2013.
The Defense of Marriage Act (the federal law that bans benefits to same-sex partners of government employees) will also be argued before the Supreme Court with a ruling also expected next summer. Considering the high court leans slightly to the conservative-right, all eyes will be glued upon the nine justices as they cast their highly anticipated rulings in June.
Without a doubt, 2012 has been a hugely successful year for the LGBTQ community, but don’t finish off that champagne just yet… 2013 may be even larger.