“Boy, this restores my faith in the American people,” said a woman sitting next to me at the election return watch party we attended Nov. 6 when it was finally announced that President Obama had won reelection.
That statement summed up my feelings of hope, excitement, relief and joy as President Obama’s count in the Electoral College rose above the magic vote count of 270. At last, after a year of work and worry, the first U.S. President to ever embrace same-sex marriage as an equal rights issue would be securely reinstated into the Oval Office for another four years. Yeah and whew!
And then came the announcement that Tammy Baldwin won in Wisconsin to become the first-ever, out LGBT person to serve in the U.S. Senate, and the seat she vacated in the U.S. House of Representatives was won by a gay man, Mark Pocan, bringing the total number of out, LGBT people in the U.S. Congress up to a record five.
As the night wore on the excitement grew even more, as all four of the marriage amendments passed in our favor, in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and finally Washington State. For the first time, same-sex marriage rights were approved by popular vote and an anti-marriage amendment was rejected.
We all looked at each other and remembered that other night eight years ago when voters in Michigan approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a public institution to which LGBT citizens are not welcome. Michigan was one of 11 states that night to approve anti-marriage proposals, and George W. Bush was reelected as President. That was a sad night of defeat and it hurt. But now, eight years later we were smiling at each other, celebrating an historic win in America for fairness, openness, diversity and equality.
Progress is sometimes hard to see and even harder to feel, especially because the path towards equality and justice is rarely an even one. There are triumphs and defeats, wins and losses, and it can be disheartening. But what is clear is that the arc of history from 2004 to election night 2012 has been towards acceptance of marriage equality. It may take a while here in Michigan to reverse our discriminatory constitutional amendment, but no one – not our allies nor our enemies – can look at the tide of public opinion and the results of this election and think that it will not be overturned eventually.
After the 2004 losses, we were not at all sure that the trend in public opinion would ever turn toward us. It felt terrible that fellow citizens would vote to affirmatively discriminate against us. It was easy to lose hope, and to leave, and many did. But what is clearer now through hindsight is that the 2004 loss was a necessary step in the march toward equality. We had to go through the campaigns, build the armies of volunteers, do the fundraising, work the long nights on the phones, draft the policy statements, call allies and do the groundwork – even though we lost in 2004. Because without that conversation and all the ones since that saw 31 states deny us equality until Nov. 6, we could not have experienced such a triumphant night in 2012.
So the work continues. In Michigan we need to build our political clout and organize better than we have before. We need to garner our allies and understand the complexities of coalition building. We need to step up our game and continue to win elections, court decisions and acceptance in the court of public opinion. We hope that soon we will be celebrating again on another election night, but instead of basking in the glow of other state’s wins we will experience the joy of seeing full equality bestowed on the LGBT people of Michigan.
It can happen, if we believe, try, organize and keep marching forward.