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|Top national news of 2012: Obama says ‘I do’|
|Written by Chris Johnson & Lou Chibbaro Jr.|
|Friday, 21 December 2012 00:00|
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 same-sex 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.
— Chris Johnson
Marriage victories in Maine, Md., Wash., Minn.
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.
— Chris Johnson
Baldwin elected first openly gay U.S. senator
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.
— Chris Johnson
Record number of gay candidates win House seats
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 (D-Wis.), 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.
— Chris Johnson
Supreme Court takes gay marriage cases
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 the first appellate court ever to strike down the law and was followed by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
This year alone, four federal district courts also ruled against DOMA.
— Chris Johnson
EEOC issues landmark descision banning trans bias
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled in April that job discrimination against employees due to their gender identity is equivalent to sex discrimination under existing federal law.
Transgender advocates joined legal experts in calling the ruling a historic development that provides transgender people in the public and private sector workforce with full coverage under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The decision was handed down as part of its resolution of a case filed by the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who charged that she was denied a job as a ballistics technician with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ lab in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said it would be hard to overstate the significance of the EEOC decision.
“Transgender people already face tremendous rates of discrimination and unemployment,” Davis said. “The decision today ensures that every transgender person in the United States will have legal recourse to employment discrimination and with it a way to safeguard their access to vital employment benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings plans.”
— Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Home HIV tests become available
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved for the first time on July 3 an in-home, self-administered HIV test to be sold over the counter.
Known as the OraQuick In-Home HIV test, the test was developed by OraSure Technologies, Inc. The FDA says clinical studies of the test showed a 92 percent sensitivity rate, which means that of every 12 HIV-infected individuals tested with the kit, one negative result could be expected.
“A positive result with this test does not mean that an individual is definitely infected with HIV, but rather that additional testing should be done in a medical setting to confirm the result,” the FDA said. “Similarly, a negative test result does not mean that an individual is definitely not infected with HIV, particularly when exposure may have been within the previous three months.”
FDA officials noted that the OraSure in-home test is the first HIV test that allows users to learn their results at home immediately without interacting with a lab or medical professionals.
Experts estimate that one-fifth of the people infected with HIV are unaware of their status and often contribute to the infection of others.
— Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Celebrities come out
A number of celebrities, politicians and other officials came out during 2012.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper publicly acknowledged being gay for the first time in a statement gay commentator Andrew Sullivan posted to his blog on July 2.
Sam Champion, weather anchor for “Good Morning America,” announced on-air in October that he was engaged to his long-time partner, photographer Rubem Robierb.
R&B singer Frank Ocean in July acknowledged his homosexuality, while Jamaican singer Diana King came out on her Facebook page in June. British singer Mika told Instinct Magazine in August he is gay.
— Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Top photo: In May, President Obama made history by announcing his support for marriage equality. (by Michael Key / Washington Blade)
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