For the first time, a proposed constitutional amendment to ban any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples was poised for defeat, and 39 percent of voters opposed the bans, a significant increase over the 33 percent who opposed similar ballot measures in 2004.
As important, election results in House, Senate and gubernatorial races coast to coast show that supporting fairness for gay and lesbian families is not a liability, while aligning with the extreme Christian right is.
Anti-marriage constitutional amendments
Anti-marriage amendments were on the ballot in eight states and were approved in seven of the eight, but by significantly lower margins than in past years. In 2004, there were 11 anti-marriage amendments on the November ballot, and in only two of them did opposition top 40 percent: Oregon (43 percent) and Michigan (41 percent). Early this morning, five out of the eight states topped 40 percent, including Arizona, Colorado, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin.
"It’s clear that fear-mongering around same-sex marriage by the GOP and the extreme Christian right is fizzling out," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It doesn’t have the juice it had just two years ago – people are getting sick of it."
Two states – South Dakota and Virginia – did far better than pundits expected. In South Dakota the margin was 48 percent to 52 percent and was attributed to a strong campaign run with meager resources by South Dakotans Against Discrimination and its campaign manager Jon Hoadley, and a strong "live and let live" ethos among South Dakotans.
In Virginia , the margin was 43 percent to 57 percent, a tie with the best-showing state in 2004 (Oregon). Assumptions that the margin would be higher reflected a failure to understand how much the Old Dominion has changed and underestimating the strength of the "Vote No on #1" campaign managed by Claire Guthrie Gasta�aga.
In Colorado, meanwhile, with 60 percent of the precincts reporting voters were rejecting a measure to extend domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples and their families. The outcome of the measure remained uncertain due to widespread delays in the tabulation of votes in Denver and Boulder.
Historic win in Arizona
Arizona was poised to become the first state to reject an anti-marriage constitutional amendment, by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent (with 97 percent of the precincts reporting). Through today, voters in 28 states have voted on marriage amendments since 1998, with Arizona being the only state to reject an amendment.
"It is always wrong to put basic rights up for a popular vote and it is nearly impossible for any minority to protect itself when that happens. But today, in Arizona it looks like the impossible happened," said Foreman. "This sweet victory will be due to an exceptional campaign run by ‘No on 107’ and its campaign chair Cindy Jordan and ‘Arizona Together’ and its campaign chair Kyrsten Sinema, and the hundreds of volunteers who worked on the campaign."
The No on 107 campaign in Southern Arizona was extremely successful at using messages that openly and honestly shared how same-sex couples in the state would be harmed by the amendment. And, Arizona Together, the statewide campaign, was also extremely successful at showing how broad anti-marriage amendments that also outlaw domestic partner benefits and civil unions harm everyone, including heterosexual couples. Combined, the messages of both campaigns were able to convince a majority of Arizona voters that marriage discrimination has no place in their constitution.
"Arizona will have a special place in history as the first state to reject an anti-gay marriage ballot measure. We know it will not be the last," said Foreman.
Pro-gay candidates triumph over those aligned with extreme Christian right
The influence of the extreme Christian right took a major hit this election as voters elected a number of pro-gay candidates and rejected some of the nation’s most vocal anti-gay candidates.
"Across the nation, voters rejected candidates who aligned themselves with the extreme Christian right wing agenda and repudiated Karl Rove’s divisive strategy of relying on the GOP’s base of so-called ‘values voters’ and divisive wedge issues to win elections," said Foreman. "Voters didn’t fall for it this time. The extreme Christian right has been revealed as the Achilles heel of the Republican Party in races across the country." (Individual races are detailed below.)
Defeat of Santorum and Hostettler in Pennsylvania and Indiana overjoys lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community
Voters sent packing two of the most anti-gay members of Congress: Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the third-ranking GOP leader in the Senate who compared same-sex marriage to "man on child, man on dog" sex, lost his seat to Democrat challenger Bob Casey, and in Indiana, Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth defeated Republican Rep. John Hostettler, one of the House’s anti-gay leaders. Hostettler, who was elected in the GOP sweep of 1994, worked to slash funding for AIDS programs and drafted the Marriage Protection Act, designed to prevent federal courts from ordering states to recognize same-sex marriages permitted in other states. In this year’s campaign, he ran a campaign ad that warned that if he lost and House leadership changed hands, "(Nancy) Pelosi will then put in motion her radical plan to advance the homosexual agenda, led by Barney Frank, reprimanded by the House after paying for sex with a man who ran a gay brothel out of Congressman Frank’s home." The statement about Frank was factually incorrect.
"We are thrilled, ecstatic and overjoyed that Rick Santorum has been thrashed at the polls. His extreme and gratuitous homophobia will no longer pollute the Senate. Good riddance," Foreman said. "Ditto for Hostettler in the House. To him we offer an equally enthusiastic good-bye."
Pro-gay gubernatorial candidates victorious in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio
In Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Oregon, pro-gay gubernatorial candidates triumphed over candidates closely aligned with the extreme Christian right.
In Wisconsin, where an anti-marriage amendment was on the ballot, Democratic incumbent Gov. Jim Doyle defeated Republican Mark Green. Republicans, who dominate the state Legislature, put the marriage amendment on the ballot in a transparent attempt to influence the gubernatorial contest. Doyle campaigned against the marriage amendment while Green strongly supported it. Polls leading up to the vote showed the two candidates consistently within two to three points of each other.
"Jim Doyle’s convincing win proves that the right-wing attempt to win the governor’s mansion by attacking gay families failed and failed miserably," said Foreman. "People who believe in justice and equality owe a lot to Governor Doyle for standing up for gay people so consistently and so courageously."
In Ohio, Democrat Ted Strickland beat Republican Ken Blackwell by a wide margin. Blackwell is one of the most virulently anti-gay elected officials in the nation, a chief advocate of Ohio’s 2004 anti-marriage constitutional amendment and an outspoken opponent of Cincinnati’s recent nondiscrimination law. Strickland, on the other hand, voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment as a member of Congress and opposed the 2004 Ohio state constitutional amendment banning same-sex partner recognition of any kind.
"We saw Republicans and Christian right extremists trying to use an anti-gay family amendment to help win Ohio for Bush-Cheney in 2004. Yet in 2006 Ohio voters have rejected the politics of division and elected a moderate who opposes scapegoating gay and lesbian families for political gain."
In Michigan, Democratic incumbent Jennifer Granholm defeated Republican challenger Dick DeVos. Gay and reproductive rights both played a role in the race. In mid-September, the Triangle Foundation, a statewide LGBT organization, linked DeVos to a $10,000 gift to the American Family Association, which is leading a boycott against Ford Motor Company because it advertises in gay publications. Because the financial woes of the big three auto companies have created financial hardships for the state, this received widespread publicity. Granholm picked up additional support through a series of ads telling that while she personally opposed abortion, she supported a woman’s right to choose while DeVos opposed abortion in all cases, including instances of rape or incest. Both candidates opposed a ballot initiative to end affirmative action in the state.
"In 2004, DeVos supported an amendment which stripped thousands of public sector employees in Michigan of employer provided health coverage. Then we learned that DeVos’ family is supporting the boycott of Ford Motor Company. Michigan voters have rejected this anti-gay zealot who puts his own bigotry ahead of the needs of Michigan families and workers," Foreman said.
In Oregon, voters re-elected Gov. Ted Kulongoski , one of the most pro-gay governors in the nation, defeating Rox Saxton. During the campaign, Kulongoski strongly supported civil unions and nondiscrimination legislation. Saxton, on the other hand, openly courted the support of the vehemently anti-gay Oregon Family Council and said he would veto any bill protecting gay people from discrimination.
"Oregonians re-elected the most pro-gay sitting governor in the nation, beating an opponent who courted and received the enthusiastic support of anti-gay forces in the state. Kulongoski was re-elected without wavering – and in fact, continually reaffirming – his commitment to civil unions," said Foreman.
Nation’s first pro-marriage governors elected by wide margins
In Massachusetts and New York, pro-marriage equality gubernatorial candidates Deval Patrick and Eliot Spitzer were elected by landslides. This is the first time pro-marriage equality candidates have been elected governor of any state.
"Massachusetts and New York voters have elected in overwhelming landslides the first two governors ever who support marriage equality for same-sex couples. These historic victories show that support for full equality for our families is not a negative but something voters are willing to embrace enthusiastically," Foreman said.
Pro-equality local measures pass in Michigan and Oregon
In Ferndale, Mich., residents overwhelmingly approved nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation by nearly three to one. Ferndale voters rejected a similar ordinance by just 117 votes in February 2000. This campaign was the third attempt since 1991 to pass a human rights ordinance barring such discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation. And more than 60 percent of voters in Corvallis, Ore., voted to amend their city charter to provide equal protection and nondiscrimination for all, inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
"The campaigns in Ferndale and Corvallis show the depth of local support for nondiscrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," said Foreman. "We applaud Ferndale Alliance Valuing Our Residents and Inclusive Corvallis for coordinating these victorious campaigns, which has sent a resounding a message to those who seek to target our community that hatred and intolerance have no place in Ferndale or Corvallis."