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The future of LGBT+ rights in the US won’t be certain until next year – and could hinge on these two Georgia Democrats

Nick Duffy November 10, 2020
Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff

Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (Getty Images)

Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump is being hailed as a cause for celebration by LGBT+ groups, but campaigners fear real progress could hinge on the outcome of two Senate races in Georgia that won’t be held until January.

As the prepare to take office on January 20, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have vowed to work quickly to unpick the raft of executive actions taken by the Trump administration to undermine LGBT+ equality –  with the ban on transgender people in the military as well as hostile ‘freedom to discriminate’ rules likely destined for the chopping block.

While executive powers will enable the president-elect to undo much of the policy-level damage done by his predecessor, more progressive planks of his LGBT+ action plan would require the passage of bills, which could prove impossible if Republicans retain control of the Senate.

Biden had pledged to use his first 100 days to pass the Equality Act, which would amend civil rights laws to enshrine LGBT+ discrimination protections in law, but the move may prove impossible without a majority in the Senate, where the Republican leadership has previously blocked all progress on the bill.

The future of LGBT+ rights laws could all come down to Georgia.

Although Democrats are set to claim the presidency and keep control of the House of Representatives, their fortunes are bleaker in the Senate. With a handful of races yet to be called, Democrats appear set to hold just 48 seats in the 100-member upper chamber, with Republicans controlling 50.

The final make-up of the chamber will not be known until January, when the state of Georgia will hold an unusual double run-off election for the two remaining vacancies.

While election day is usually decisive in the majority of states, Georgia’s unusual election laws require a run-off vote in cases where no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote.

This is true for both Senate races in the state. In the first race, Republican incumbent David Perdue is on track to receive 49.7 per cent of the vote, ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff’s 47.9 per cent but shy of the margin required to see him re-elected outright.

In the second race, a special election for a vacant seat contested by multiple candidates from both parties, Democrat Raphael Warnock topped the first-round ballot with 32.9 per cent of the vote, ahead of Republican Kelly Loeffler on 25.9 per cent of the vote.

In order for the Democrats to stand a chance at passing bills through the Senate, both Ossoff and Warnock would have to prevail in the January 5 run-off vote against their Republican counterparts, making the race pivotal for both parties as they seek to either help or hinder the president-elect.

Georgia Democratic activist Stacey Abrams has been credited with reviving the party's fortunes in the state through voter registration efforts
Georgia Democratic activist Stacey Abrams has been credited with reviving the party’s fortunes in the state through voter registration efforts (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

While Georgia is a traditionally-conservative state, Joe Biden is still leading Donald Trump by a wafer-thin margin in its too-close-to-call presidential race, with Democratic activist Stacey Abrams credited with helping revive the party’s fortunes through mass voter registration efforts.

LGBT+ campaigners vow to fight for ‘pro-equality champions’ in run-off election

Ossoff and Warnock are both LGBT+ rights supporters and have both committed to co-sponsor and vote in favour of the Equality Act, should they be elected.

By contrast, Perdue opposes the Equality Act and has voted for bills to undermine LGBT+ discrimination protections, and Loeffler has previously put forward bills seeking to legally erase transgender children.

Other Biden-backed bills unlikely to reach the president’s desk without a Democratic-controlled Senate include the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act to ban conversion therapy, the Safe Schools Improvement Act to require school districts to develop inclusive bullying and harassment policies, and the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of LGBT+ older Americans.

Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said: “We need pro-equality champions like Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock to help usher in a pro-equality majority in the US Senate.

“Both Ossoff and Warnock will prioritize the passage of the Equality Act if elected, and their historic races will be our highest priority in the coming weeks and months.

“David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are anti-LGBTQ extremists who will undermine the rights and well-being for all LGBTQ people.

“We will continue mobilizing voters to help Jon Ossoff and Rev Raphael Warnock across the finish line to ensure a pro-equality Congress that will fight to pass the Equality Act and enshrine non-discrimination protections for all LGBTQ people.”

More: Georgia, joe biden, Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock, Senate

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