News & Politics

Election Results Are Bittersweet for Gays

In a reminder that time always sides with those fighting for equality, a majority of young people voted against the gay marriage ban in California.
In his uplifting victory speech, President-elect Barack Obama told the story of 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper of Atlanta and the remarkable changes that have transpired during her lifetime.

Born just one generation after slavery, when people like her were barred from voting both because of the color of their skin and their gender, she saw America overcome the Depression, crush the Nazis, dismantle racial segregation, land on the moon and inspire freedom-seekers to knock down the Berlin Wall.

"And this year, in this election," Obama said, "she touched her finger to a screen and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes, we can."

For those of us who're gay, Ann Nixon Cooper's story is a well of hope to draw from as we continue our own difficult journey to equality after a bittersweet election.

Gay, bisexual and transgender Americans still have no federal protection against job discrimination. Gays in the military still must worry that honesty will end much-loved careers.

Those of us who have legally wed -- in Massachusetts or Canada, for example -- still endure the indignity of having the federal government treat us as single. And we must still fear we'll be attacked for something as simple as holding hands.

This election made the work ahead both harder and easier.

Friends in high places: Voters elected the most gay-friendly presidential nominee in history. Obama does not support same-sex marriage, but endorses essentially all other rights.

Obama will likely get to appoint justices to a Supreme Court now just 5 to 4 in favor of basic gay rights.

And while Bill Clinton's tenure showed us the limits of presidential power, Obama possibly could in his first term sign laws against anti-gay and -transgender hate crimes and job discrimination, as well as enlist the Pentagon's help in charting a way for gay Americans to serve openly.

In congressional elections, gay Coloradoan Jared Polis was elected to the House, while Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado -- lead advocate of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage -- was defeated. Sadly, so was gay-friendly Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut.

New Yorkers put Democrats in charge of the state Senate, increasing the chances that the chamber will join the Assembly and Gov. David Paterson in approving gay marriage.

Work ahead: Voters in Hamtramck, Mich., repealed a new gay-rights ordinance, while Arkansas forbid couples other than married heterosexuals to adopt, Arizona passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and Florida approved a Michigan-like ban on recognizing unions other than heterosexual marriage.

But, of course, the most painful setback was in California, where voters passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage. That marks the first time voters have stripped gay couples of marriage rights that had already been won.

But, in a reminder that time always sides with those fighting for equality in America, 61 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted against the ban; 61 percent of those ages 65 or older voted for it.

I doubt I'll be blessed to live to 106 like Ann Nixon Cooper. But I am certain the day is not far ahead when gay equality will be part of America's remarkable story of change.


Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.
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Election 2018