The Gay-Rights Movement's Fabulous Election Night

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The victories went beyond four gay-marriage ballot initiatives and represent what one advocate calls "a breathtaking leap forward."

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Reuters

Tuesday's election was a landmark for gay-rights advocates in so many ways it's hard to count them all. Not only did voters in four states choose the pro-gay-marriage side of ballot measures, the U.S. Senate got its first openly gay member and a record number of openly gay legislators won up and down the ballot. The down-ballot victories include a judicial fight in Iowa and two states that are poised to have openly gay state House speakers. A brief summary:

* Maine: This ballot initiative ratifying gay marriage, which passed 53-47, stands out from the rest because it was a fight gay-marriage advocates took upon themselves -- unlike every other ballot fight, which has been sparked by marriage opponents putting the issue to the vote. The backstory: After the state legislature passed same-sex marriage in Maine in 2009, opponents put it on the ballot and voters rejected it. But gay-marriage advocates didn't give up; they collected signatures to put the issue on the ballot again in 2012, and this time they won.

* Washington and Maryland: In both of these states, the legislature passed same-sex marriage but opponents petitioned to put the issue up to a vote. After hard-fought campaigns, voters affirmed both laws, by similar 52-48 margins.

* Minnesota: Here, opponents proposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, similar to the ones that have been approved in more than 30 other states. But advocates mobilized to stop it and won for the first time. The result does not make gay marriage legal in Minnesota, but it's not constitutionally banned, either.

* Iowa: In a more under-the-radar battle, social conservatives mounted a major push to get rid of an Iowa supreme court justice who had voted to legalize gay marriage there in 2009. They were successful in ousting three other justices in 2010, but in 2012, it didn't work -- Justice David Wiggins survived.

* Gay candidates: Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin is set to become the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate. Succeeding her in Congress is a gay man, Marc Pocan. California's Mark Tokano, who is Japanese-American, will be the first gay minority in Congress; in Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, who is bisexual, leads in her congressional race, though it's still too close to call. (All are Democrats -- Massachusetts' Richard Tisei lost his bid to become the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress.) Overall, out of 180 candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a stunning 118 of them won, including the first gay state legislators in North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Florida. In Colorado and Oregon, gay legislators are poised to become state House speaker thanks to Democratic takeovers of their respective statehouses.

In the words of Chuck Wolfe, the Victory Fund's president: "This wasn't incremental progress. This was a breathtaking leap forward."

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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