Gays Fared Well in Midterm Election

Aside from an expected rebuff of gay marriage in Nevada, the election was a coast-to-coast success for gay activists and candidates.

The three openly gay members of Congress won re-election by landslide margins; Providence, R.I., became the largest city with an openly gay mayor; and activists prevailed in four referendums on municipal nondiscrimination codes.

"Openly gay and lesbian candidates held their own on a day when gay Americans saw many of their allies on the national level defeated,'' said Brian K. Bond, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which recruits and supports gay candidates.

Gay-rights activists were particularly heartened by the success of an anti-discrimination amendment in Sarasota, Fla., extending protections to gays and lesbians. It was backed by 73 percent of the voters.

In three other communities — Westbrook, Maine; Ypsilanti, Mich., and Tacoma, Wash. — voters rejected proposals to strip gay-rights provisions from local anti-discrimination ordinances.

In Westbrook, gay-rights supporters prevailed by only 2 percentage points, but in Ypsilanti a similar provision survived by a margin of 3,023 to 1,779.

"That's something beyond a victory, that's a definite message,'' said Beth Bashert, co-chair of the Ypsilanti Campaign for Equality.

Seth Kilbourn, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., hoped the results would deter foes of gay rights from pushing ballot measures in the future.

"We're getting smarter and better at winning these things,'' said Kilbourn. "My hope is that our opposition will realize they're going to lose.''

The only major setback for gay-rights activists was scarcely a surprise. By a margin of 337,183 to 164,555, Nevadans gave final approval to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that received initial approval two years ago.

State law already limits marriage to heterosexual couples, but some conservative groups sought the amendment to ensure that same-sex couples from other states could not gain legal recognition in Nevada.

Openly gay candidates fared well in races for federal and state offices, led by the three incumbent members of Congress. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was unopposed, while Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., each won more than 60 percent of the votes.

An even bigger landslide occurred in Providence, where Democrat David Cicilline won 84 percent of the votes. The Rhode Island capital, with a population of 174,000, will surpass Tempe, Ariz., as the largest city with an openly gay mayor, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

"Obviously, there will be some interest nationally because I'm gay,'' Cicilline said. "But I'll continue to talk about the things that will make Providence a better place to live for all kinds of people.''

Precedents were set in several legislative elections, according to the Victory Fund. Among them:

—Democrat Jack Jackson Jr., a Navajo, became the nation's first openly gay American Indian to win a legislative seat. He was elected without opposition to Arizona's House of Representatives.

—Democrat Daniel O'Donnell, brother of talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell, became the New York's first openly gay male assemblyman.

—Democrat Rich Madaleno became the first openly gay man elected to Maryland's General Assembly.

—Massachusetts Democrat Jarrett Barrios became the first openly gay Latino elected to any state Senate.

—Democrats Mark Leno and John Laird became California's first openly gay male legislators. One of the state's four lesbian lawmakers, Assemblywoman Carole Migden of San Francisco, won a seat on the state Board of Equalization representing 8 million constituents — more than any other gay or lesbian official in the country, according to the Victory Fund.

In Oklahoma City, voters elected Democrat Jim Roth as a county commissioner — the first time an openly gay person has won elected office in the city, the Victory Fund said.