Brad Biren, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
After last Tuesday, few people would consider Election Day a victory for gender equality. Yet, unbeknownst to those glued to CNN or Fox News, over 106 (of 164) lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender candidates won last week. How did so many out LGBT candidates win election, and yet we lost the House of Representatives? As Lisa Neff, a columnist for 365gay.com, wrote in an October 25th article, LGBT Americans are realizing the importance of local elections. Local elections include positions such as school board members, county supervisors, mayors, and state legislators. These positions wield great power within the local community and often have equal or greater impact on the lives of their LGBT constituents.
–David Cicilline’s election to Congress. The Providence, R.I. mayor will be the fourth openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives, joining Reps. Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and Jared Polis, who each won reelection.
–Jim Gray’s election as mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, the state’s second-largest city.
–Nickie Antonio’s election to the Ohio House. Antonio will be the first openly LGBT person to serve in the state legislature.
–Marcus Brandon’s election to the North Carolina House. Brandon will be the state’s only openly gay state legislator and one of just five out African Americans to serve as state lawmakers.
–Victoria Kolakowski’s election as a Superior Court judge in Alameda County. Kolakowski becomes the first openly transgender judge in America.
–Kevin Lembo’s election as Connecticut State Comptroller. Lembo joins just a handful of openly LGBT candidates to have been elected to statewide positions.
–Laurie Jinkins’ election to the Washington State House. Jinkins is Washington’s first openly lesbian state legislator, and could help her gay colleagues pass a marriage equality bill in the next legislative session.
–Maryland’s and California’s expanded LGBT state legislative caucuses. Each will include seven openly gay and lesbian lawmakers. In Maryland, the caucus is poised to help pass marriage equality legislation, which the reelected Gov. Martin O’Malley has vowed to sign.
All this being said of course, many members of the Iowa community are still dumbfounded with the results of the judicial retention vote. How could three qualified members of the judiciary be voted out of office for exemplifying what the U.S. Constitution protects—the guaranty of impartiality in judicial decisions? Many of my colleagues at the College of Law have quoted and cited to Professor Todd Pettys, a constitutional scholar and beloved member of the faculty. In a November 4th article in the Des Moines Register, Professor Pettys said what many of us felt:
“I think these three ousted justices are going to be regarded in judicial circles as heroes,” Pettys said. “I think other justices are going to look at these three individuals and say, ‘Here are three individuals who took a very controversial stand, because it’s what they thought the law required. They stuck with what the law required, even when they knew they were going to be coming up for election.’”
But no professor can say something as poignant as a spouse. One month before the publication of this blogpost, I married my husband in a beautiful ceremony at a local winery surrounded by dear friends and family. The atmosphere was more than that of acceptance; it was of epiphany and understanding. Growing up in Algona, Iowa, my husband was bullied and afraid. Our wedding was the culmination of much progress both for ourselves and more importantly for our loved ones. The day was so perfect, he and I forgot about the controversy surrounding our love.
The night of the election, with his sullen face and Charlie Brown theme-song demeanor, he slumped into bed shell-shocked and dismayed. He turned and said, “They didn’t just vote out the judges, they voted us out too.” The retention vote was in many ways was the first public vote on our rights. My husband was hurt by the results of the vote, not because he didn’t expect it in many ways, but because it came on the heels of an event celebrating our love. He thought Iowa would rise to the occasion and do the right thing, as it has for so long.
His family has made enormous progress. They are a wonderful example of love and acceptance. They are the best of what Algona, Iowa and Kossuth County have to offer. They voted for us at our wedding and voted to retain the judges the day of the elections. In many ways, Iowa did rise to the occasion and will continue to do so. The judicial elections didn’t take away our right to vote and those judges will likely be replaced by judges who will decide the same way in the future.
There is still a great deal of progress to be made though. Last summer, on the way back home to Iowa City, we stopped in Britt, Iowa for gas and soda (not pop). I saw a woman with a “support traditional marriage” bumper sticker. I confronted the lady who was using her child as a human shield. I am from New York, raised in a house full of loud, obstinate Jewish women. My childhood taught me to face ignorance head on in order to “enlighten” the masses.
I laid my foundation—“is that your car with the bumper sticker?” I asked. She nodded and I asked her why my (then) fiancé and I were not worthy of equal rights. She replied because she “supports traditional marriage.” Long story short, she’s a close minded bigot who wishes all the best for me but wants me not to love or marry my husband. Hate the sin, but love, love, in fact, adore the sinner.
When I hear that basic argument, I think, as Justice Stevens recently put it, “tax the yarmulke, tax the Jew.” How can you be against the exercise of my one definable characteristic as a minority and tell me you love me? John Corvino, a professor at Wayne State University, asked this question in a recent editorial on 365gay.com (yes, go to it, it is a great source of logic). In his piece, Corvino remarked on the horrifying trend of Christian people commenting on the rash of gay suicides by using the following remark, “That’s terrible, but…”
But what? He pointed out that their response of denouncing violence and at the same time describing their contempt for the victims as the following: “They’re akin to saying that you are really concerned about feeding the starving, but first you want to make sure that they’re not going to burp at the dinner table.”
At this point, I should be livid and bristling with contempt, but that’s not the case at all. I started this blogpost with the good news. There were 106 reasons to celebrate last week. One state has its first openly gay black state representative; Johnson County, Iowa once again voted for Janelle Rettig, a lesbian, for County Supervisor; the first transgender Judge was voted into office; and Lexington Kentucky voted for an openly gay mayor. Kentucky voted for a gay. I feel optimistic when I read about things like that. As more and more openly gay candidates are voted into public office, it will be harder and harder for ignorance and bigotry to prevail.
As my silver-lining-seeking husband has started to say with cadence and efficiency, “It gets better.”
I couldn’t agree more
For a further discussion of reactions to the judicial retention vote, see Student Writer Matt Hulstein’s earlier post, Cruelty and Recklessness: The Implications of the Iowa Judicial Retention Vote