In a highly contested general election, President Barack Obama tonight retained the presidency of the United States of America after defeating Republican challenger and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. Multiple media outlets, including CNN and Fox News, projected Obama the victor around 11:15 p.m. on election night.
The victory means that the country will retain the most LGBT-supportive president in history.
Among his accomplishments on LGBT issues during his first term, Obama worked toward the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” signed the The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law and has instructed his Department of Justice to acknowledge the unconstitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. He also announced his personal support for allowing same-sex couples to marry.
No president had ever advocated so fiercely for LGBT causes, but can voters expect more of the same in the next four years?
Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said she believed Obama would continue to advocate on behalf of LGBT causes in his second term.
“He’s clearly been the most pro-LGBT president we’ve had,” Nipper told GA Voice by phone.
Nipper was bullish on legislation moving forward, even with a divided Congress where Republicans are projected to retain leadership in the U.S. House while Democrats are projected to control the U.S. Senate.
“We have to assume [DOMA] is something that would be on President Obama’s agenda. There’s already the Respect for Marriage Act that’s in Congress. We need to get an employment non-discrimination bill passed. Our expectation is that he will be moving forward,” she said.
But Obama’s positions on a wide variety of issues, not just those directly impacting LGBT constituents, made him the better choice, Nipper said.
“It’s not just about things we naturally think about being LGBT-specific, it’s a whole host of things. HIV travel ban, making sure people have access to treatment for HIV and AIDS. It’s making sure people have access to affordable healthcare, those are LGBT issues. We will be working very hard to make sure those issues are addressed with sound policy that reflects our lives,” Nipper said. “We see greater numbers of people in society who are with us on marriage equality, who understand the issues of fairness. A majority of people are with us on employment protections. We’re talking the 80 percentile. While we have a president who has been pro-LGBT, we also recognize that our president has to work with the people who voted him into office.”
“There are Republican folks coming out every day in support of our lives and our families, coming out to say it’s only fair for us to have equal protections and equal rights in terms of employment and marriage,” Nipper said. “This is not a partisan issue. It’s about who is pro-LGBT and who is not. All kinds of folks from all different party-lines are for our rights.”
Not all gay political insiders were happy with Obama’s victory.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of gay conservative political organization GOProud, supported Romney throughout the general election.
“He won’t have some sort of popular mandate,” GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia told GA Voice in a telephone interview this week. “It’s going to be up to the Republicans in the House to make sure he shows up to work, passes a budget and we start to move on a path to reduce spending and the debt.”
Will loss force the right to come around on marriage?
LaSalvia thinks that as the country’s electorate continues to embrace LGBT issues, so will politicians on the right.
“I know that there are some that are actively thinking about how they’re going to make that statement,” LaSalvia said. “Most of those people, I don’t think have been vocally anti-gay marriage, but more and more folks are realizing it’s important to speak out. That’s the problem with so many people on the right, they haven’t cared about the issue or have never said anything.”
As what he expects from an Obama presidency, LaSalvia said he hoped Republicans and Democrats would work together to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act rather than push employment non-discrimination.
“I think that DOMA is a pressing issue for a lot of gay people. That’s an issue most gay people can agree on. There are issues like that where our political capital and our efforts should be focused. That’s a piece of legislation that actually hurts gay families,” he said.
Convincing Republican lawmakers, who will retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 113th Congress, to work toward DOMA’s repeal is something constituents will need to do, LaSalvia said.
“Let’s just be real about how this issue is treated by politicians. No politicians came to their position before their base constituency. We know that President Obama did not make a public statement in support of same-sex marriage until he felt that the base of the Democratic Party was there on that issue,” he said.
As for what to expect from the Republican party in the wake of their defeat, LaSalvia thinks the GOP will need to find a new message to win over moderate and independent voters when it comes to social issues.
“There will be a quite a struggle between some of the social conservatives and the rest of the party,” LaSalvia said. “They will try to make the case that Mitt Romney wasn’t conservative enough. The reality is that he was consistently in the social conservatives camp on abortion and same-sex marriage and other social issues. He took the positions they wanted him to take the entire time.”
Those social issues, LaSalvia suggested, did not help Romney win over the right voters.