Election Night 2014 serves as a stark reminder that the LGBT advances we’ve seen in recent years are fragile and the fight for true equality is far from over.
All across the country, voters rejected Democratic congressional candidates and installed conservative Republicans, some of whom will surely attempt attacks on our rights.
The news was dispiriting in state houses, too, where even in true-blue Maryland, an unknown GOP businessman handily defeated the incumbent lieutenant governor, who was supposed to benefit from campaign rallies and fundraisers led by the biggest Democratic names — Hillary, Bill and Michelle.
The new makeup of Congress, with Republicans firmly in control of both chambers, surely means that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is dead for the foreseeable future, despite calls by some to attach the measure to another legislative vehicle. And although there’s no appetite for an anti-gay amendment barring marriage equality, we will likely see efforts by some Republicans to advance a federal religious exemption bill that would allow officials to opt out of officiating same-sex marriages or even enable businesses to refuse service to gay couples.
Already, the National Organization for Marriage has announced plans for an anti-gay marriage march next year. In one night, we went from talk of a “post-gay world” back to playing defense in many parts of the country.
The silver lining is that LGBT issues didn’t play a prominent role in many races. Marriage emerged in some red states, like Georgia, but Republican candidates largely waged savvy campaigns focused on the economy and avoided being drawn into fights over social issues.
In Maryland, Republican victor Larry Hogan said he had “evolved” on marriage, but noted he opposes the state’s new transgender rights law that took effect just last month. His win stood out in a night of GOP victories, as polls showed his opponent Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown with a comfortable lead going into the election.
But Brown made several amateurish blunders, including devoting a large chunk of his early TV ad campaign to attacking Hogan, which only served to grow his name recognition in a state where almost no one had heard of him before seeing Brown’s ads. Brown seemed to be merely waiting his turn and never offered a compelling or clear agenda beyond extending pre-K without satisfactorily answering how he’d pay for it. It was comical to watch Brown in debates attempt to use the marriage issue against Hogan. Brown, like his boss Gov. Martin O’Malley, was late to the marriage party and certainly doesn’t deserve credit for its eventual success. His loss in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1 should spell the end of O’Malley’s presidential ambitions. Hogan used the endless O’Malley tax increases of the past eight years to mercilessly hammer Brown and it worked brilliantly.
Elsewhere, there was more bad news for LGBT advocates. Mike Michaud lost his bid for Maine governor. He would have been the first openly gay person elected to a governor’s office in the country. The annoyingly entitled Sean Eldridge, who wed Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, lost his race for Congress from New York, despite moving from one multi-million dollar mansion to another in a different district in a craven and transparent bout of carpetbagging. Clay Aiken’s vanity campaign for Congress also fell short in North Carolina.
But the biggest loser of the night was President Obama, who was unfairly repudiated by voters everywhere. The sad irony about his seemingly lost and Carter-esque presidency is that he rose to national prominence based on his communication skills but has failed to use them once in office to assuage jittery voters who have been bombarded with one crisis after another for the past two years, from Crimea to a crush of children crossing the border to ISIS to Ebola.
Obama seems uninterested in playing the game of politics and reluctant to use his bully pulpit. Unfortunately, voters forgot the mess he was handed after the disastrous Bush presidency and now clearly blame him for a lack of leadership on a host of issues foreign and domestic. He will become a lame dame in short order.
If there’s a bright side for Democrats, it may lie in 2016, when Republicans will have to scale the “blue wall” of reliably Democratic 18 states and D.C. and their combined 242 electoral votes to defeat Hillary Clinton.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.