Obama Win Bittersweet for Gay Rights Supporters


Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House on Tuesday was historic, sweeping and decisive. So it stings the morning after to see that his triumph co-exists with the approval of proposals nationwide to ban gay rights.

“It’s mostly glass half-full, but it’s also glass half-empty,” said New York State Senator Tom Duane, the first and only openly gay state senator, when reached by Runnin’ Scared for comment on Wednesday. “It was so close, and we were so outspent, that it’s actually very good that 50 percent of people want to maintain our rights.”

Duane was speaking about the tight contest in California, where Proposition 8, the proposal to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, appeared to have passed with the approval of 52 percent of the voters. Proposition 8 effectively overturns the state’s high court ruling that legalized gay marriage in May, hurls 18,000 already wedded same-sex couples into existential limbo, and sets the stage for a potential Supreme Court showdown.

Nationally, Proposition 8 was regarded as a bellwether of gay rights progress, with friends and foes pouring money into a battle that generated over $70 million and became the most expensive contest outside the presidential race. New York’s own Governor David Paterson co-hosted a $5,000-per person fundraiser in New York in September to help defeat the ban.

Ever since Paterson issued the directive in May for state agencies to recognize out-of-state gay marriages, New Yorkers have been increasingly more vested in the outcome of other state’s equality struggles. Now, with the loss in California, only Massachusetts and Connecticut remain as places where gay and lesbian New Yorkers can marry, then return home to have their unions recognized. 

If there is any upside, besides the airfare savings, it is that New York might now become the first state to enact a gay marriage bill passed via the legislature. On Tuesday, Democrats won control of the state senate, which positions them to pass the marriage bill already approved by the Assembly in June 2007. Gay super-ally Paterson already indicated he will sign the legislation.

But that doesn’t mean wedding bliss is around the corner for same-sex couples in the Empire State. 

”The biggest impediment is the financial crisis,” said Senator Duane, when asked for a timeline. “Virtually everything else will be on hold until we get the state back on track.”

Still, Duane said, same-sex marriage legislation will “certainly” pass before Governor Paterson stands for re-election in 2010.

“It will pass with bi-partisan support,” he said. “We won’t get all of the Democrats, but we will get a few of the Republicans.”

In the meantime, rounding out the bruising gay election scorecard, a proposal to ban same-sex marriage passed in Arizona, and a shocking proposal in Florida to ban any unions other than straight marriages, including the new domestic partnership of your long-widowed Aunt Margot, passed. Less surprisingly, Arkansas passed a ban on single people adopting children, which effectively bans gay adoptions, as gays and lesbians cannot marry in that state.

At least the losing team can take heart that Obama mentioned “gay” people in his victory speech watched by millions around the world.