By Adrian Shanker/Equality Pennsylvania
Every election is important. Every time we vote, we are deciding who will represent us, and which values are important to us at the time. This election could mark a turning point for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender equality. This election marks the first time a major-party nominee for President supports marriage equality. From the President on down, here are some races to watch for LGBT equality.
For the first time in American history, a major party nominee for President supports marriage equality. Also for the first time in history, a majority of Americans support marriage equality. And for the first time in numerous election cycles, marriage has not been a major wedge between the two nominees. Without a doubt, there is a stark difference. President Obama believes that all people deserve the same rights, no matter who they love. Mitt Romney believes in amending the Constitution to insert bigotry and discrimination. President Obama ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", Mitt Romney supported the ban on open service. President Obama supports workplace non-discrimination, while Mitt Romney is once again, opposed. The Presidential race is certainly a turning point. Forward or Backward, that's the choice.
Pennsylvania Row Offices:
For the first time, all three statewide row office positions have candidates on one side who believe in marriage equality. Kathleen Kane (Nominee for Attorney General), Eugene DePasquale (Nominee for Auditor General), and Rob McCord (PA State Treasurer, seeking re-election) have been been very public about their stance for equality. All three are endorsed by EqualityPA and all three, to varying degrees, would be able to directly impact LGBT equality from their row offices. Also, and this should not be lost on anyone, all of these positions are uniquely able to hold Governer Corbett accountable -- and for the LGBT community, that makes each of these a race to watch.
In four states, marriage is on the ballot. It's the one argument that our opponents have made which sometimes sticks, that when marriage goes to the ballot, we lose. Well here we are again with four states battling marriage on the ballot. One, Minnesota, is fighting against an anti-gay constitutional amendment, while two, Maryland and Washington, are voting to protect their marriage equality legislation, and then there' Maine, going to the polls to win marriage equality. All four states are close, and a win in even one would be a major victory, but especially in Maryland, Washington, or Maine -- where the outcome means marriage rights for another state. These races should be watched very closely.
This could be the year of national firsts, if a few races go the right way. Most notable is Tammy Baldwin's bid for the Wisconsin Senate seat. Congresswoman Baldwin has already been a history maker - becoming the first openly gay person to win election to Congress as a non-incumbent and the first lesbian elected to Congress. Now she could become the first openly gay United States Senator. Baldwin is a national hero to many in the LGBT community, and her race is at the top of the list of races with an impact for LGBT equality.
Then there is Mark Takano, seeing a California congressional seat. Takano would be the first gay person of color elected to Congress and Richard Tisei, seeking a Massachusetts congressional seat and who could be the first openly gay non-incumbent (and the only current) Republican to win a seat in Congress. Finally, in a predictable win, it's expected that Mark Pocan will be the winner in his Wisconsin congressional race, replacing Tammy Baldwin in the House. Pocan would represent the first back-to-back openly gay representative in the same district.
In Pennsylvania, there are four openly gay state house candidates running - and this is important given that we have never had an openly gay state legislator in PA. Brian Sims, Chris Dietz, Kelly Jean McEntee, and Jeff Dahlander. All of them deserve props for running as openly gay candidates, two of them (McEntee and Dahlander) in fairly entrenched republican districts (all four are Democrats). Brian Sims won his highly contested primary in Philadelphia and is now unopposed in the general election. And Chris Dietz is really the race to watch for those of us seeking to pick up another openly gay legislator. Dietz' race is considered among the most competitive house races by PoliticsPA, and he has racked up endorsements from progressive groups statewide. McEntee and Dahlander could win with the right GOTV push, and I certainly hope they do, but the race to watch that promises to be close is Chris Dietz.
It's really a testament to our time that we have numerous congressional candidates throughout the state supporting marriage equality. Kathy Boockvar and Manan Trivedi, both Red to Blue races for the DCCC, have not shied away from their LGBT stances. Missa Eaton in Northwest PA and Matt Cartwright in North East PA have also stood strong in support of marriage equality, even in districts with possible less interest in the issue. These four races are worth watching on Election Day.
There are numerous excellent candidates for state legislative seats, too many to name here, but among those of specific interest to LGBT equality are Jason Owen, Kevin Deely, Rob Teplitz, Sean Wiley, Will Sylianteng, and Sarah Speed. Jason Owen is the Republican candidate in the highly contested 3rd House District (Erie) running for an open seat. Owen is the more outspoken on LGBT equality, representing a rare circumstance for Pennsylvanians used to seeing the Democrat in that role. Owen earned the support of Equality Pennsylvania with his undying support of marriage equality and his promise to be a voice for equality within the republican caucus. Surely, not all in his party will welcome him with open arms. We surely will.
Then there is Kevin Deely. Like Owen, Deely is also in PoliticsPA's list of top ten most competitive state house races. Deely, an educator and labor leader has also been the faculty adviser to the Gay Straight Alliance in Easton High School, where he teaches. Deely's commitment to education and an understanding of bullying in schools would make him a top leader for LGBT youth in Harrisburg. His opponent, State Rep. Justin Simmons opposes workplace equality for the LGBT community. Deely represents a stark difference, and this race is a top priority for LGBT advocates.
Rob Teplitz and Sean Wiley are the respective Democratic nominees for State Senate in the districts. Both are running in an open seat and if they win would change party control of the seat. Teplitz from Central PA and Wiley from Erie are both outspoken supporters of equaliy - and in both cases, their opponents are opposed. The PA Senate is a space where even a few more votes for equality could mean we could start to win on issues of basic fairness and equality. We can't afford to lose these seats. And then we have strong progressive candidates like Will Sylianteng and Sarah Speed. Both are running in slightly more challenging districts, Sylianteng in Montgomery County and Speed in York County -- but both are ideologically progressive and both are attorneys who understand a civil rights framework. Sylianteng is an Asian American man in an interfaith marriage, and in speaking about marriage equality has stated that only a generation ago, his marriage too would have been illegal. He gets it and his voice will be welcome in Harrisburg. Speed is an animal rights attorney the top pick by the Humane Society of PA. The benefit of her leadership in that area is her collegiality with many conservatives who support animal rights - she will be able to speak their language to educate them on some LGBT equality issues as well. And we hope she will be victorious on Election Day.
Adrian Shanker is the President of Equality Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AdrianShanker