by Lisa Keen
People were dancing in the streets in San Francisco's gay Castro district and partying on the sidewalks in Oakland Tuesday as President Barack Obama took the lead and won re-election after a hard-fought campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.
Hundreds of people gathered in the Castro for an election night street party November 6 that turned into an exuberant celebration once Obama was declared the winner and marriage equality measures had passed in Maine and Maryland.
"Our community said never again will you take away our rights," said John Lewis, a longtime marriage equality supporter, from the stage set up at the corner of Castro and Market streets.
His husband, Stuart Gaffney, added, "This is what history looks like: electing the first president who supports marriage equality."
Gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) told the crowd, "It is good to be queer in America tonight."
He marveled at the fact that the president, despite coming out in May in support of marriage equality and fighting to repeal the federal ban on same-sex marriage, could nonetheless win re-election with a majority of votes from Americans.
"Yes, we can be first-class citizens in this country," said Leno.
Others were also happy with the outcome.
"I am glad to see Romnesia gone," transgender senior advocate Jazzie Collins said.
Across the bay in Oakland, gays and lesbians were equally upbeat at a party in the Uptown neighborhood.
Brendalynn Goodall, president of the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club, was thrilled with the president's re-election.
"I thought I would go to bed not knowing" the outcome of the race, she said at the local Democratic Party's celebration at Z Cafe. "I'm ecstatic. The next four years we'll see more for the LGBT community. I'm completely ecstatic."
Michael Colbruno, the out co-chair of the United Democratic Campaign in Oakland, credited the hard work of volunteers and elected officials for helping turn out the vote.
"People like Mayor [Jean] Quan called people all over the country to vote," said Colbruno.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), a longtime ally of the LGBT community, told the crowd, "You made President Obama get four more years."
The Obama victory – he won both the Electoral College and popular vote – came on the same night the LGBT community won unprecedented battles in three states over marriage equality and Wisconsin elected the first openly gay U.S. senator. The victories prompted comment from many political pundits throughout the night.
"This country is really changing," remarked CNN commentator Paul Begala. "We've just elected our first openly lesbian senator, Tammy Baldwin. ... We re-elected a president who endorsed gay marriage. Nineteen years ago, I was working for Bill Clinton ... and we thought it was progress to pass 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" The results on LGBT issues Tuesday night, he said, "might be one of the most wonderful things about tonight."
The Obama victory was especially sweet for many LGBT people given the Republican ticket's staunch opposition to equal rights for gays in marriage, the military, and nearly every other arena, contrasting with Obama's support.
"As the first president to sign a pro-LGBT bill, the first president to speak out in support of the freedom to marry, and the president who made open service in our armed forces for gays and lesbians possible, LGBT Americans have won a major victory tonight," said Jerame Davis, head of the National Stonewall Democrats.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, calling Obama the "most pro-equality president ever" said, "There is no doubt that we will continue to see tremendous progress toward full equality like we've made during his first four years."
"While some pundits predicted the president's support for marriage equality would hinder his campaign," added Griffin, in a statement released Tuesday night, "we know the opposite is true. President Obama's historic and heartfelt declaration that all loving and committed couples should be able to marry further rallied millions of voters and sparked conversations that advanced marriage campaigns around the country. His re-election after expressing support for marriage equality is further proof that the momentum is on the side of marriage for all families."
Log Cabin Republicans, which in late October endorsed Romney, did not issue a statement Tuesday night.
In his victory speech in Chicago late Tuesday night, Obama said that most Americans hope the country is a place that provides good education, a strong economy, and, among other things, a country that "isn't weakened by inequality." He also paid homage to the "diversity" of Americans.
Obama said he does not believe the country is as divided as pundits suggest, and that it doesn't matter who you are, including whether you are "gay or straight," "you can make it here in America, if you're willing to try."
The apparently heavy turnout of Democrats for Obama seemed to have paid off for LGBT candidates and ballot measures, with pro-same-sex marriage ballot measures passing in Maine and Maryland, and the unprecedented defeat of a proposed ban on same-sex marriage in Minnesota. A marriage equality referendum in Washington state also looked like it would pass Wednesday. Obama's victory in Wisconsin also apparently helped propel Representative Tammy Baldwin to a historic win as the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate.
Baldwin's election also was reason to celebrate, said gay San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener.
"It is amazing. Just the fact we are sending a lesbian to the U.S. Senate is beyond amazing. With Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts in the Senate, take that. Mitch O'Connell," Wiener told the B.A.R. as he was leaving the Castro party, referring to the Republican Senate minority leader from Kentucky.
While Romney did not make same-sex marriage a prominent issue in his campaign, he and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan made indirect attacks against Obama over his support for marriage equality in particular.
Ryan, in a conference call sponsored by the National Journal with right-wing activist Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition on Sunday, November 4, said Obama was taking the country down a path that "compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian values, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place."
A Romney campaign robo-call in Virginia also attacked Obama on religious values. (Obama ended up winning the state.) And another robo-call, released last Thursday, warned "President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith."
Early returns suggested that heavily gay sections of key states, including Ohio, may have played a role in Obama's eventual win in the Electoral College. At press time, Obama was leading in both the popular vote and electoral vote. And early exit poll results published by the New York Times indicated that 76 percent of voters who identified as gay voted for Obama – a percentage that matches most previous election data historically.
The popular vote, at press time, stood at 60 million for Obama and 57.3 million for Romney. The electoral vote was 303 for President Obama and 206 for Romney. (To win, a candidate needs 270 electoral votes, regardless of the popular vote outcome nationally.) As of Wednesday, Florida was the only state that was still too close to call.
Matthew S. Bajko and Cynthia Laird contributed to this report.