The results on Election Day were hailed as a milestone as a record number of openly LGBT people were elected to Congress, although prospects for the passage of pro-LGBT legislation next year don’t look promising.
In addition to re-electing President Obama and approving the marriage equality side on ballot initiatives in four states, voters elected at least six openly LGB lawmakers to Congress in addition to electing pro-LGBT lawmakers like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown in Ohio.
Tammy Baldwin made history by becoming the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate (see related story) as incumbent Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) were re-elected. Joining them will be Sean Patrick Maloney, who’ll be the first openly gay congressman from New York; Mark Pocan, who’ll occupy the seat Baldwin held in the House; and Mark Takano, a California Democrat who’ll be the first openly gay person of color elected to Congresss.
As of press time, the race to represent Arizona’s 9th congressional district between bisexual Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker wasn’t yet called. However, Sinema maintained a slim lead in the votes that were already tabulated. If elected, Sinema would be the first bisexual member of Congress.
Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, acknowledged the night resulted in historic wins in terms of LGBT representation at the federal level of U.S. government.
“It’s without a doubt historic,” Wolfe said. “I think you can talk about the fact that it was history-making, and those that won will be making history for years to come.”
The election results means Congress will look very different in terms of LGBT representation in the wake of Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) retirement and Baldwin leaving the House for the Senate. The results also mean that number of openly gay House members will go from four to at least six.
Gay candidates who didn’t win were Republican Richard Tisei, who lost his bid to unseat pro-LGBT Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), and lesbian Democrat Nicole LaFavour, who lost her bid to unseat Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). LaFavour wasn’t endorsed by the Victory Fund.
Despite the excitement, the Election Day results in some respects resulted in the status quo for the legislative and executive branch of the U.S. government from what existed after the 2010 election when no pro-LGBT legislation passed Congress. Democrats retained control of the White House and the Senate, while Republican remain in control of the House.
As of press time, the Senate was poised to have 54 senators caucus with the Democrats and 45 senators caucus with the Republicans, although the Senate race in North Dakota remained too close to call. That would mean a net gain of one Democrat in the Senate. In the House, Republicans retained control of the chamber, but had a slimmer majority of 232 seats while Democrats claimed 191 seats — with 12 races being too close to call.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, acknowledged in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that these results still mean a pro-LGBT majority doesn’t exist in Congress, making the passage of favorable legislation difficult.
On the issue of federal workplace non-discrimination protections, which remain an outstanding issue for the LGBT community, Griffin said in response to a question from the Washington Blade the votes won’t be there to pass legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“We need to acknowledge that although we certainly made some gains in the Senate, and potentially some gains in the House, we are still short of having a vote for an inclusive ENDA in the House,” Griffin said. “We need to be realistic about that.”
Griffin said “more successes could be seen” on the state and local level and called on the White House to revisit the idea of an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, which it said in April it wouldn’t issue at the time.
“It is my hope and belief that we can get an executive order out of this White House,” Griffin said. “It is something that should be done and we will continue to urge our newly re-elected president to do. That would not be the full solution, but it would be a step toward the end goal.”
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and one of the leading advocates of the executive order, also said it’s time for the White House to reconsider to its decision in the wake of the Election Day results.
“Yesterday was a turning point for our LGBT movement and President Obama has proven that elected officials can stand strongly on the side of LGBT fairness without fear of voter backlash,” Almeida said. “We will continue to push for the president to sign the executive order as soon as possible because every day that passes is another day in which taxpayer money can be squandered on anti-LGBT workplace harassment and discrimination.”
Asked whether the White House would revisit this idea, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson said, “I have no updates for you on that issue.”
Almeida also said action could be seen in the Senate to pass ENDA and called for a hearing, mark-up, and full Senate vote in 2013 when lawmakers convene at the start of the next Congress.
“One lesson from recent LGBT advocacy efforts is that we should not wait until the second year of a congressional session to move legislation forward because that’s when some elected officials start getting nervous about the upcoming election and the legislative clock starts to run out of legislative days,” Almeida said.
In the addition to workplace non-discrimination protections, action could be done at the federal level to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Griffin said during the conference call HRC would “continue to push forward” in Congress, but expressed skepticism about passage of any legislation.
“We do have to remember the leadership in the House of Representatives is not a pro-equality set of leaders, so we still have a lot of work to do there, but I can believe we can continue this momentum,” Griffin said.
Griffin placed greater emphasis action from the Supreme Court, which on Nov. 2o will determine whether it will take up litigation challenging California’s Proposition 8 and Section 3 of DOMA. If the court declines to hear the Prop 8 case, it would mean same-sex marriage would almost immediately return to California.
Another question is which states will advance pro-LGBT legislation or relationship recognition bills in the wake of the Election Day results. Griffin said he expects progress there, but said it’s “very early” to determine which states will see action.