Did you think we’d heard the last of the American elections? Think again – there have been so many other discussions going on in the background that haven’t received as much coverage that the attention has to shift back to America to talk about them. Possibly the biggest news items from the election are having the first openly gay person elected to the Senate and seeing the states of Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington vote to approve same-sex marriages.
Tammy Balwin, the first Wisconsin woman and openly gay person elected to the Senate, already has a very impressive record for LGBT rights and equality.
She co-founded and co-chaired the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. Her 2009 efforts to pass expanded hate-crimes law were successful and she was the lead author of legislation allowing the extension of benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. All through her campaign the public was aware of her sexuality, but even the media considered it a non-issue. After her election she said: “This is a big day for gay women in America, and really, for all communities who aren’t the typical straight, white, wealthy men elected to Congress.” You can’t help but see her point and hope other countries and communities take the same approach.
Of course the election wasn’t just an opportunity for a change of government in
America, but also a great time to vote on other pressing issues with a referendum. Whether you call it Maine Question 1, Maryland Question 6, Minnesota Amendment 1 or Washington Referendum 74, the issue was essentially the same in all four cases: same-sex marriage. Of particular interest are Maine and Minnesota.
Back in 2009 marriage equality was signed into law by John Baldacci, then Governor of Maine, but was rejected by referendum that same year. Since 2011 local rights movements Equality Maine and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) have driven the campaign to have the issue presented on the ballot and managed to collect over 100,000 signatures, meaning the initiative would, at the very least, be sent to voters. In March this year, the Legislature voted to postpone the debate indefinitely, which, under Maine’s constitution, qualified the issue for the November ballot. Results show that 53% of voters favour the initiative now.
In Minnesota, the Senate and the House passed identical bills on May 11 and May 21, 2011, proposing an amendment to the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. This appeared in the ballot but was defeated with 52% of voters voting against it, making Minnesota the first U.S. state to reject a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by popular vote.
This are resounding successes for LGBT people everywhere and are signs of a decisive move towards a more open-minded society.