In the days leading up to the July 20 primary, you couldn’t turn on the television without being inundated with ads from Republicans running for governor who wanted to tell you how anti-gay they are.

This year’s election season has been particularly bad, largely due to the particular Republicans on the ballot.

Karen Handel supported domestic partner benefits and was a member of the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans during her campaigns for Fulton County Commission. But she denied those stands when she ran successfully for Secretary of State in 2006, and continues to deny her past support in her current bid for governor.

Editorial: Roy Barnes for governor

Her GOP primary opponents, including former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, also have extensive records on LGBT issues — and not good ones.

As state insurance commissioner, Oxendine blocked companies from offering domestic partner benefits until a judge forced him to stop.

Deal is no better on our issues, consistently earning scores of zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional report card. He was the first to try to score political points via Handel and Log Cabin, and others quickly followed. But they missed the valid point that she has flip-flopped and lied, and focused only on how she once supported the gays.

And when Handel finally fired back at the barrage, it was not at her opponents, but at us. When WXIA’s Doug Richards interviewed Handel recently, she made it clear that she not only opposes gay marriage, but also gay parenting.

In fact, she even said she would consider banning gay adoption — a move that would put Georgia on par with Florida, and that would be particularly callous given the thousands of children languishing in the foster care system.

Horrid vs. horrible

In Tuesday’s primary, Handel garnered 34.1 percent of the vote, Deal placed second with 22.9 percent, and Oxendine came in fourth in a field of seven candidates. Because no candidate garnered 50 percent plus one vote, the top two will face off again in a runoff election Aug. 10.

So now we can likely look forward to three more weeks of being in the crosshairs as Handel and Deal battle it out to see who will emerge from the runoff as the Republican nominee.

It’s a choice between horrid and horrible, between someone who pandered for our votes then threw us under the bus, and someone who has been happily driving over us for his whole career.

If either Handel or Deal win the governorship, we lose. And we lose big.

Luckily, the primary played out differently on the Democratic side. Former Gov. Roy Barnes, who served one term before being beaten by Sonny Perdue, cruised through a similarly crowded field to take 65.8 percent of the vote, winning without a runoff.

That means Barnes gets a head start on his GOP opponent, with extra time to raise funds and campaign across the state while the two Republicans continue to tear each other apart in a race to be the last man (or woman) standing.

It also means we need to get involved in helping Barnes now.

Since anything the Georgia Voice writes about Barnes is likely to be used against him in the campaign, let me be perfectly clear: Roy Barnes is no dream candidate on LGBT issues.

But he does treat us like fellow Georgia citizens, rather than simply political cannon fodder, and that’s enough to deserve your vote.

During his term as governor, Barnes signed a hate crimes bill into law (though it did not list protected categories and was struck down as too vague) and became the first sitting Georgia governor to address a gay group when he spoke to the Atlanta Executive Network on July 20, 2000.

Barnes offered a general speech on issues he said “affect all of Georgia” like job growth, traffic and education.

“I’m glad to be here to talk with you as Georgia taxpayers and Georgia citizens who just happen to be gay and lesbian citizens of the state of Georgia,” Barnes said.

In a question-and-answer period, Barnes spoke of his support for the hate crimes law, expressed concern about all forms of bullying in schools, and said “people should be hired on merit, regardless of anything about them — what color they are, where they came from, or anything else, sexual orientation included.”

He did not address any specific gay rights measures, and hedged when asked if he would support a law affirming the right of gay people to adopt children. “I’m not going to lie to you, some things we agree on and some we don’t — I am not willing to pledge or state that I would change the law or enact an affirmative law until I had further time to consider it,” he said.

Then, as now, Georgia law is silent on gay adoptions, leaving decisions in judges’ hands.

Barnes was not asked, and did not tell, if he would oppose a law to ban gay adoption like what Handel now says she would consider.

Start now

At the national level, LGBT activists are rightfully debating whether we should continue to support the Democratic Party —especially with donations of time and money — when progress on our issues has been slow at best.

Vote for Democrats as the lesser of evils on Election Day, the logic goes, but make them do more to earn our dollars and volunteer hours.

But here in Georgia in the 2010 governor’s race, that argument doesn’t apply. It’s simply too critical that neither of the two Republicans becomes governor.

Even if electing Barnes only results in Georgia keeping the status quo on LGBT rights — and remember, our status quo is currently no hate crimes law, no protection from being fired based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and both a state law and a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage — that’s still better off than we would be under either Handel or Deal.

Fighting a gay adoption ban would suck resources out of the LGBT community and hurt not only gay prospective parents, but also hundreds of kids who don’t have families, and hundreds of kids already being raised by gay parents who would not be able to have their families secured by adoption.

So go out now and spend the next three months doing anything you can to help Roy Barnes retake the governor’s mansion. Get a yard sign. Get a bumper sticker.

Volunteer for the campaign. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Donate money if you are able.

Then come Nov. 2, vote like your life depends on it.

If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trangender Georgian, it probably does.