Top national news of 2012: Obama says ‘I do’
In perhaps the biggest year for the LGBT rights movement in history, one story stands out as the most significant: President Obama’s re-election after he publicly endorsed marriage equality.
Obama won re-election by taking 51 percent of the popular vote compared to the 47 percent won by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, paving the way for the pro-LGBT policies of his first term to continue over the next four years. Obama won major swing states, including Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Virginia.
In May, during a TV interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts, Obama announced his personal support for same-sex marriage, making him the first sitting U.S. president to take that step.
“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships ... at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said.
In contrast, Romney said on the same day that he opposes both same-sex marriage as well as civil unions offering the same benefits as marriage.
Obama’s announcement, which followed Vice President Joseph Biden’s support for samesex marriage announced during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” concluded the 19-month “evolution” that Obama started in November 2010 when he told progressive bloggers that he might eventually support marriage equality.
Still, Obama said his endorsement was a personal one and that he was hesitant to address the issue previously because he didn’t want to nationalize it. The president maintained states should be left to debate the issue because marriage hasn’t traditionally been determined at the federal level.
Following Obama’s endorsement, a number of high-profile Democrats followed Obama’s lead and made similar statements in favor of marriage equality — such as House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (R-S.C.) — as well as celebrities, such as actor Will Smith and rapper Jay-Z.
The move was also positive in terms of financing for the Obama campaign. According to an analysis from National Public Radio, donations to Obama nearly tripled in the immediate period after the announcement. The campaign took in nearly $9 million over three days, compared to $3.4 million in the three previous days.
Marriage equality took a giant leap forward on Election Day when, for the first time, voters in three states approved same-sex marriage rights at the ballot. In addition, voters in Minnesota rejected a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage.
The results brought the total number of states where same-sex marriage is legal to nine plus D.C.
Same-sex marriage was made legal by referenda in Maryland, Maine and Washington State. The margin of victory in each state was slim; in Maryland, the measure passed with 52.4 percent of the vote.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, praised the wins after the results of the ballot initiatives were announced.
“Our huge, happy and historic wave of wins last night signaled irrefutable momentum for the freedom to marry, with voters joining courts, legislatures and the reelected president of the United States in moving the country toward the right side of history,” Wolfson said.
But those victories came just months after a defeat for LGBT advocates in May when North Carolina approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Tammy Baldwin made history on Election Day when she became the first openly gay person to win election to the U.S. Senate.
In a closely watched contest in Wisconsin, Baldwin, a Democrat, won election to the Senate in a race against Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson. She won the election after serving nine terms in the U.S. House and being the first non-incumbent openly gay person to win a congressional race.
Following the announcement of her victory, Baldwin said she’s “well aware” that she will be the first openly gay member of the United States Senate, but said she “didn’t run to make history.”
“I ran to make a difference — a difference in the lives of families struggling to find work and pay the bills, a difference in the lives of students worried about debt and seniors worried about their retirement security, a difference in the lives veterans who fought for us and need someone fighting for them and their families when they return home from war, a difference in the lives of entrepreneurs trying to build a business and working people trying to build some economic security,” Baldwin said.
A record number of lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates were elected to the U.S. House this year, nearly doubling the number of out representatives serving in the lower chamber of Congress.
Gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) won re-election in November, and on the same night, out Democratic candidates Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Mark Takano of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin won their races.
The new additions — minus Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (DWis.), who are leaving the U.S. House — mean LGB representation in the chamber will jump from four lawmakers to seven.
Sinema will become the first openly bisexual member of Congress and Takano will become the first openly gay person of color to have a House seat. Pocan’s election means Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district will maintain gay representation as Baldwin heads to the U.S. Senate.
The Supreme Court set the stage this year for what might be the demise of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act when it agreed to take up litigation challenging the anti-gay measures.
On Dec. 7, justices agreed to take up Hollingsworth v. Perry, the lawsuit seeking to overturn Prop 8, and Windsor v. United States, a lawsuit filed by 83-year-old New York lesbian Edith Windsor seeking to overturn DOMA.
Ted Olson, one of the co-counsels representing plaintiffs, expressed optimism following the announcement that justices would rule against the California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which was approved by voters in 2008.
“We have an exhaustive record on which to build this case, and it will be an education for the American people,” Olson said. “We are very confident the outcome of this case will be to support the rights of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”
The case comes to the Supreme Court after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February ruled against Prop 8. Had the Supreme Court declined to accept the case, the ruling would have stood and marriage equality would have been restored to California.
The DOMA case comes to the Supreme Court after numerous lower courts determined the anti-gay law was unconstitutional. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals became