In October former presidential candidate Joe Biden told the Philadelphia Gay News he would “make enactment of the Equality Act a top legislative priority during my first 100 days — a priority that Donald Trump opposes.”
Now that Biden has won the election that promise all depends on Georgia, which has become ground zero in the battle to protect LGBT equality and, once again, to stave off attempts to undermine American democracy.
“Jan. 5 is now a critically, critically, critically important date,” said Fred Smith, a Georgia activist and member of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ LGBTQ Advisory Board. He was speaking with other Georgia LGBT leaders to Project Q Atlanta, an LGBT news website, just days after the Nov. 3 presidential election and key Senate races around the country.
As the dust settles around most of the U.S. Senate races, the partisan make-up of the next session stands at 48-48, with four seats not yet called. One of those seats is in North Carolina, whose Democrat is 95,000 votes behind the Republican incumbent. That vote count should be finalized Thursday. One of the other seats is in Alaska, whose Democrat is 57,000 votes behind the Republican incumbent. The vote count there will stop receiving ballots on Nov. 18. If both of those seats go to the Republican incumbents, the Senate tally will stand at 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and the two run-off races in Georgia give Democrats their only chance of taking control of the Senate. (When there is a 50-50 split in the Senate, the tie is broken by the incumbent vice president who, next year, will be Democrat Kamala Harris.)
“Biden’s hands will absolutely be tied across the board on every issue, including LGBTQ issues,” said Smith, if Republicans win both of the seats from Georgia.
Lucas Acosta, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said his group “will be making some announcements in the coming days on Georgia, but I can say we will be heavily involved.”
HRC has been heavily involved in Georgia since last year, when it partnered with Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight organization to combat voter suppression in Georgia. HRC promised a six-figure contribution to Fair Fight, saying that while voter suppression efforts are primarily aimed at people of color, “it has also harmed LGBTQ Americans.”
Smith, who is also a law professor at Emory University, said the outcome of the two Georgia run-off elections will control not only the types of judges Biden will be able to appoint but “whether he’ll get to appoint judges at all … [as well as] the type of people he’ll be able to appoint to his cabinet and pro-equality legislation.”
Jeff Graham, president of the Georgia Equality board, told Project Q Atlanta that the LGBT community needs to do “hard work for the next nine weeks.”
These two run-off races are the result of none of the four major-party candidates for U.S. Senate in Georgia getting at least 50% of the vote during the Nov. 3 election. Therefore, the top two vote-getters in both races now square off for Jan. 5.
One race pits incumbent Republican David Perdue against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. The other pits incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler against Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock.
Warnock garnered 340,000 more votes than Loeffler on Nov. 3, but a second Republican in the race took away 979,000 votes from Loeffler. Warnock can hope to pick up the 459,000 votes siphoned away by two other Democrats in the Nov. 3 race, but it’s clear, the race is going to be tough.
Democrat Ossoff received 88,000 fewer votes than his Republican opponent Perdue, but there was one other candidate on the ballot: A Libertarian, who won 115,000 votes.
Fivethirtyeight.com, the data analysis website founded and run by gay statistical guru Nate Silver, said, “Things aren’t looking so rosy for Democrats now.” It calls a Democratic sweep of both Georgia seats “unlikely.”
Georgia’s electoral votes have still not been called for either the Democrat or the Republican in the presidential race. Even though Georgia has voted for the Republican presidential candidate since 1992, Biden leads Trump by over 12,000 votes as of Tuesday morning, despite Georgia’s long track record of supporting Republican presidential candidates.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr sent out a memo Monday to direct all U.S. attorneys to investigate any “substantial allegations” of voter fraud anywhere in the country before states certify their election results.
Georgia’s Republican Lieutenant Gov. Geoff Duncan told various news outlets today that his office has been monitoring for “any systemic examples of fraud or voter disenfranchisement” in the state and “have not had any credible examples.”
Lisa Keen is the Chief Correspondent for Keen News Service, a professional news organization specializing in national political and legal news that involves or affects gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.