Sponsoring LGBT Legislation No Harm to Electability

Barbara Boxer

Barbara Boxer

A number of LGBT allies lost their races in last week’s elections—but one bit of positive news is that sponsoring LGBT-rights legislation did not negatively impact a candidate’s ability to win.

Three current senators who were lead sponsors of LGBT-rights legislation in the 111th Congress and were up for re-election all won their races: Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Thirteen of the fifteen representatives who were lead sponsors of LGBT-rights legislation and were up for reelection won their races: Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Donna Christiansen (D-V.I.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jim McDermott (D-Wisc.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Pete Stark (D-Calif.), and Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.).

Two sponsors did lose: Pennsylvania Democrats Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak. (Sestak was running for a Senate seat.)

Murphy, a former Army captain, was lead sponsor of a bill to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy banning openly gay service members. It was incorporated as language in the Defense Authorization bill that passed the House in May but has yet to pass the Senate. Murphy also co-sponsored several other LGBT-rights bills, including two bills that would help protect students from bullying and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sestak, a former three-star admiral in the Navy, had been an outspoken supporter of DADT repeal. His campaign Web site stated that Sestak’s support of LGBT rights “is born out of his experience in the military,” where he served with lesbian and gay service members.

He also sponsored a bill to ban housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and was a co-sponsor on several other LGBT-related bills, including the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act that passed last year.

Sestak and Murphy’s support of LGBT rights seem to have played no part in their defeats, however. Debates with their opponents focused on jobs and economic issues. Both Pat Toomey, Sestak’s opponent, and Mike Fitzpatrick, Murphy’s, tried to rally voters who were dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s—and by extension, the Democrats’—handling of the economy.

Toomey even agreed with Sestak in supporting a repeal of DADT, although Toomey said he first wanted to make sure military leaders agreed repeal would not interfere with their mission.

Looking back to earlier support for LGBT rights, four of the 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 were up for reelection this year. Three of the four won: Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The only one to lose, Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), was another victim of the wave of anti-Democrat sentiment across the country. Wisconsin voters also chose Republican Scott Walker to replace Democratic governor Jim Doyle, who did not seek another term.

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