Republican Scott Brown secured a victory Tuesday in the Massachusetts special election, leaving many LGBT activists stunned and angry over the loss of the filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate and wondering whether the LGBT agenda can advance in Congress.
Brown, a state senator, won his bid to capture the seat previously held by the late Edward Kennedy after taking 52 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press. Turnout was high; more people reportedly voted in Massachusetts on Tuesday than in any non-presidential general election in the state since 1990.
Many in the LGBT community were disappointed by Brown’s victory because he has a history of opposition to same-sex marriage and hasn’t expressed an interest in fighting for LGBT causes in Congress. In 2007, he voted for a failed state constitutional amendment that would have ended same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
By comparison, Democratic contender Martha Coakley, as the state’s attorney general, last year filed a lawsuit on behalf on the State of Massachusetts against the Defense of Marriage Act, citing that 16,000 married couples in the state are denied federal benefits because of the law.
Dee Dee Edmundson, political director for MassEquality, said Brown’s win was “a call to action” for LGBT people to become more politically involved.
“This is a rallying cry that we need to step up our efforts; we can’t be apathetic anymore,” she said. “If the haters are going to win in Massachusetts, they can win anywhere, and [LGBT civil rights supporters] have a lot of work to do for the 2010 election.”
Brad Reichard, a gay D.C. resident who volunteered for the Coakley campaign, said the candidate’s loss was “clearly disappointment,” but urged for a greater effort from the LGBT community in moving forward.
“I think Sen. [John] Kerry said it best: This isn’t about a circular firing squad, this is about looking forward and moving forward,” Reichard said.
Coakley had a double-digit lead on Brown as recently as last month, but the Republican candidate played up his image as a populist candidate during the campaign and surged ahead in the last couple weeks to win.
Edmundson said a number of factors played into Coakley’s loss, such as the lack of interest until the final weeks of the campaign from national groups, including the Democratic National Committee. Edmundson also noted Massachusetts’ historical resistance to electing female candidates and noted that the state has never elected women to the offices of governor or U.S. senator.
“The electorate doesn’t like strong, powerful women,” Edmundson said. “You have a guy with a beer and truck versus a prosecutor who has done her best for justice in the world. The guy with the beer is probably going to win three out of four times.”
Edmundson expressed skepticism about Brown’s commitment to fight for LGBT residents of Massachusetts while in office.
“He’s already come out against [repealing] DOMA, against [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act], against repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” she said. “He’s not going to be representative of the electorate in Massachusetts.”
The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples, strongly supported Brown during the final week of the campaign.
Over the weekend, the organization reportedly arranged for robocalls to Massachusetts residents, asking voters if they oppose same-sex marriage, and if so, to vote for Brown in the election.
In an e-mail blast Monday, NOM said Brown’s vote in the U.S. Senate would help derail efforts to overturn DOMA.
“His election would help protect DOMA and send a resounding message to the pro-same-sex marriage leadership in Washington,” says the e-mail. “And if a Republican can win in Massachusetts … how many red-state Democrats would be willing to put their seats on the line by voting to repeal DOMA in an election year?”
But Edmundson said Coakley’s loss wasn’t a referendum on same-sex marriage, noting marriage rights for gay couples have been available in the state since 2003.
“Her support of same-sex marriage wasn’t a huge factor,” Edmundson said. “I don’t think it was a referendum on marriage at all. … I think it was a referendum on health care, I think it was a referendum on the state of the economy and the likability of the candidates.”