’The Gayest Year in Gay History’: Rights Piling Up; Battles Still Ahead
NEW YORK - In Maine, a congressman running for governor came out as gay. In Hawaii, lawmakers girded for a vote to legalize same-sex marriage. And in the U.S. Senate, seven Republicans joined the Democrats in a landmark vote to ban workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
From one end of the country to the other, the overlapping developments on a single day underscored what a historic year 2013 has been for the U.S. gay-rights movement - "the gayest year in gay history," according to Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, the movement’s largest advocacy group.
Yet each of Monday’s developments, while heralded by activists, revealed ways in which the gay-rights debate remains complex and challenging for many Americans.
Republicans, for example, are increasingly split on how to address gay-rights issues - some want to expand their party’s following, while others want to satisfy the religious conservatives who make up a key part of the GOP base. More than 40 percent of Americans remain opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage. And even some prominent gays remain uncertain whether they should make their sexual orientation known to the world at large.
Mike Michaud, the Democratic congressman from Maine, said he came out to dispel "whisper campaigns" about his sexuality as the three-way race for governor began to take shape. Through his six terms, he’d never before spoken publicly about his sexual orientation, and he broke the news to his mother only hours before releasing his statement.
In Hawaii, where the state House is debating a Senate-passed gay-marriage bill, thousands of citizens have signed up to testify - and the majority of those who’ve spoken thus far oppose the measure.
And in Washington, even as gay-rights supporters celebrated the Senate’s backing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, conveyed his opposition and left it unclear whether the GOP-controlled House would even vote on the bill, known as ENDA.
Boehner "believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," said his spokesman, Michael Steel.
Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay issues, said he was on the Senate floor in 1996 when an earlier version of ENDA lost by a single vote.
"It’s poignant for me that it’s taken 17 years to get another vote on something as basic as workplace discrimination," he said.
"Even though we’re making rapid progress on marriage equality, and the entire movement seems unstoppable, there are still big pockets of resistance," Socarides added. "It’s going to cost a lot of money and require a lot of work to get us to where anti-gay discrimination no longer exists."
Monday’s 61-30 vote on ENDA demonstrated that the Senate’s Republican minority could not muster the votes needed to block the bill by filibuster. The legislation could win final Senate passage by week’s end.