When gay Americans notched some of their biggest political victories in the last year for same-sex marriage and military service, opponents were already preparing an intense battle to roll back the new rights.
That onslaught, in state legislatures and Washington, has raised the stakes in the 2016 election for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which is trying to leverage its unprecedented political power to elect lawmakers who would extend federal protections at work and home to gay citizens, just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected race, religion and gender.
The gay power base has never been stronger. Maloney is one of seven openly gay U.S. lawmakers — the most ever — and membership in the House LGBT Equality Caucus has surged 58 percent this session. There are about 500 LGBT politicians serving in elected office at all levels of U.S. government and almost 200 more running for office this year, including 11 for Congress, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports those candidates.
Now, according to Maloney, the biggest priority is electing more Democrats and gay politicians to win support for a sweeping federal law, the Equality Act, that would give LGBT residents in the U.S. the same civil protections afforded for race, age and religion.
“It’s very clearly shifted from an outside game to an inside game,” said Jeff Trammell, a Washington lobbyist, who has been active in political campaigns stretching back to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential run. “We have definitely reached a tipping point within the Democratic party. Acceptance has changed so much faster than expected. We’re in bit of a sorting out process.”