The Femo: What will Obama’s next term mean for LGBT advocacy?

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by Ashleigh McEvoy

Nov. 6 delivered numerous wins for gay rights advocates. Voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage. Maine, Washington, and Maryland became the first states in the nation to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, making marriage equality a reality in nine states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person to be elected a U.S. senator; Arizona became the first state to send an openly bisexual person, Kyrsten Sinema, to Congress; and New Hampshire became the first state to elect a transgender person, Stacie Laughton, to its state legislature. An openly pansexual woman, Mary Gonzalez, also won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. The 113th United States Congress will include 7 LGBT people: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Sen. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Sen. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). This is a record number.

These gains were followed by a Washington Post-ABC News poll, released Wednesday, which showed majority support for gay marriage on the national scale, with 51 percent supporting and 47 percent opposing overall. More significantly, the poll demonstrated a huge age gap in beliefs. Of those aged 18-29, 66 percent support same-sex marriage, but only about half of those aged 30 to 64 and 31 percent of those aged 65 or older support it. These numbers — in conjunction with the historic wins of Election Day — may indicate a rushing sea change in public opinion about gay rights. More likely, however, they are simply the most recent manifestations of an upward trend in acceptance for LGBT people, especially among the younger generations.

President Obama’s re-election offers a promising window of opportunity for gay rights activists. In his first term, President Obama supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, appointed more openly gay officials than any other president to date, extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, and ultimately endorsed gay marriage in May. His administration has announced that it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. President Obama has also nominated seven out gay people to the federal bench, in addition to appointing two women to the Supreme Court. The Obama campaign store even had specific merchandise — from T-shirts to stickers — for LGBT persons.

It remains to be seen what the next four years hold for the gay rights movement. Four Supreme Court justices are now over 70 years old and two are over 60, making it a definite possibility that President Obama will have the opportunity to appoint more justices during his second term. Currently, the California Proposition 8 case and several DOMA cases are sitting on the docket of the Supreme Court, with a combined hearing set for the cases later this month.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse writes in an opinion for the New York Times last week, “The most likely scenario to emerge from the conference is a grant of review in one of the DOMA cases, most likely Windsor v. United States, decided last month by the federal appeals court in New York … Assuming the court grants one of the DOMA cases, I think the justices are likely to put the Proposition 8 case on hold until the DOMA issue is decided. That could push any further development on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage — as opposed to the constitutionality of refusing to recognize those marriages that individual states have legalized — until next summer.” She believes it is possible that the Court will overturn DOMA.

How will the shifting social landscape and strengthening of pro-gay sentiment affect the Supreme Court and inform its view of equal protection? Will it strike down DOMA once and for all? Will it pass up hearing the Prop 8 case and simply let marriages resume in California without a federal ruling? Which states will be next to pass marriage equality bills? When will the day finally arrive for national marriage equality? The next four years promise a great deal of action in the gay rights arena.

 

Photo of President Barack Obama by Marc Nozell: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcn/7811031280/