A large, happy, relieved and celebratory crowd gathered at Affirmations Nov. 6 to watch the returns. They toasted Obama's win together. Photo courtesy of Johnny Jenkins

Election Victories Celebrated, Equal Rights In Sight

By Crystal A. Proxmire

FERNDALE -

With Maine, Maryland, and Washington having passed gay marriage, and Minnesotans voting not to deny it, people in the LGBT community have reason to celebrate.

"I think this is the last time that you will see gay marriage be used by any major Republican campaigns. This is it. The public has spoken. There are too many young, progressive people out there who just don't have the same hate. You can't campaign against equal rights any more and win," said Affirmations Executive Director Dave Garcia as he and a group of people at the LGBT community center watched poll returns Nov. 6.

Optimism is strong as Michiganders wonder when equal rights will happen here. Same-gender loving couples are denied marriage in Michigan based on a change to the state constitution in 2004, which at the time got 58 percent of the vote.

Garnett Lewis, Director of the Joint Legislative Campaign of the Michigan Democratic Party, sees the victories as a good sign. "The successes in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota were enormously encouraging. I think we can credit President Obama for his leadership on this issue in announcing his support for marriage equality," Lewis said. "Attitudes are evolving all across the nation, including here in Michigan."

There is still a lot of work to be done, however, especially in state leadership. "Despite the changes in public opinion, the Republican majorities in the Michigan House and Senate are incredibly hostile not just to LGBT equality, but gender equality as well. Michigan can and will move forward on marriage equality, but we first need to focus on continuing our progress in the state legislature," Lewis said.

Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan, was buoyed by election results. "Pro-equality Theresa Abed, candidate for House District 71 (Grand Ledge/Charlotte), won her seat handily and is the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1964. We have a newly elected openly lesbian judge in Carol Kuhnke (Washtenaw). The message this sends is important to absorb because if members of the gay and transgender community or our allied champions are not in public office we cannot reasonably expect that our needs will be considered much less adequately addressed."

Lewis noted other victories as well. "Obviously, President Obama and Senator Debbie Stabenow winning re-election was great to see. Both the President and Senator Stabenow stood up for the auto industry when the economy was failing, and Michigan did not forget their efforts to save more than 1 million jobs across the country," Lewis said. "At the state level, it was encouraging to see House Democrats make serious progress toward retaking the majority by picking up six seats. Electing Bridget Mary McCormack to the Michigan Supreme Court is something all progressives should be excited about. Finally, democracy was defended with the defeat of Proposals 1 and 5."

There was also evidence that morals mattered over money in this election. A report by the Sunlight Foundation shows that of the $1.07 billion spent nationally by 629 outside interest groups, just 32 percent yielded the desired results. In most cases it was right-wing causes that lost.

"Progressives in Michigan should take heart that the millions spent by super PACs here in Michigan made little impact on the presidential race. It shows that ultimately what makes a difference are the millions of contacts, neighbors talking to neighbors, that happened over the last few months," Lewis said. "Progressives need to continue that momentum and keep working to organize."

Lewis said she is already hard at work recruiting progressive candidates for the next election cycle. "It has already started. Actually, it never stops. Michigan Democrats are always looking for potential candidates for races at every level. We need people that are smart, hard-working and motivated. Doors don't knock themselves. Candidates that are willing to do the work of getting out there and meeting voters and raising funds can be successful even in tough districts."

Dievendorf said it's about changing the world in other ways too. "Getting to know us to be the politically active parents, neighbors, children and leaders that we are is the most effective way to dispel stereotypes, eradicate fears, and inspire others to be champions for our rights. We need to be doing what we can to bring everybody into this movement."

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