LGBTQ advocates are hailing the surprise result of the special Senate election in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore, a conservative firebrand who has said homosexuality should be illegal.
"In rejecting avowed bigot Roy Moore, Alabama voters solidified once and for all that attacking and demonizing the LGBTQ community is a sure-fire way to get yourself beat on Election Day," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group.
Jones, a 63-year-old former prosecutor, bested Moore in a deep red state that has not elected a Democrat since 1992. In last year's presidential contest, Donald Trump won the state by 28 points.
Jones, who prosecuted two members of the Ku Klux Klan for bombing a church in Birmingham in 1963, ran in part on a platform of criminal justice and civil rights. In a September editorial in the Huffington Post, he wrote about the resurgence of hate-motivated violence as the context for his campaign.
Moore, who had recently been accused by several women of sexual misconduct when they were underage, had been roundly criticized by activists for his history of hostility toward the LGBTQ community.
In 2002, when he was chief justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court, Moore wrote a concurring opinion in a child-custody case involving a lesbian mother. The court ruled in favor of the father on largely procedural grounds, but Moore took the ruling as an opportunity to weigh in on same-sex parenting. Moore wrote that lesbian and gay parents were ''presumptively unfit to have custody of minor children under the established laws of this state.''
In a 2005 C-Span interview with Bill Press, Moore said "homosexual conduct should be illegal” and admonished the Supreme Court for its ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, a landmark case that struck down the state's sodomy law. Moore then reiterated this stance in 2015, in a video interview that was posted to YouTube.
In Sept. 2016, Moore was suspended from his post on the Alabama State Supreme Court for the second time after instructing probate judges to defy the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges.
Alex Smith, executive director of Equality Alabama, a local LGBTQ advocacy group, told NBC News that Moore's projected defeat was "incredibly exciting."
"It means that hate and bigotry did not win today, and it shows that candidates who embrace equality are candidates that win," he said.
However, Smith cautioned, “there is still a lot of work to do.” He said the work includes “getting basic equality in things like housing, employment and public accommodations.” Alabama does not provide any state-level anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people.
“Even though there are 600,000 people who voted for Doug, there are also 600,000 that voted for Roy,” Smith said.
The Human Rights Campaign estimates there are 60,000 LGBTQ voters in Alabama, which is significantly more than Jones' margin of victory. With 99 percent of the vote in on Wednesday morning, Jones was leading 50-48 percent, or 673,236 votes to 652,300 votes — a margin of more than 20,000.
Jones’ projected victory will bring the Republican edge in the U.S. Senate to just one seat, and this could bode well for LGBTQ rights, according to Haider-Markel.
“I would think [Moore’s defeat] could embolden some moderate Republicans … to sort of push back and get some concessions and not have such an extreme agenda," he said.
For example, Haider-Markel said we could see more "pushback on judicial nominees who seem ready to roll back some of the gains on LGBTQ rights."
Haider-Markel also suggested the defeat of anti-LGBTQ candidates, like Moore, might spark reconsideration of hate-crime and anti-discrimination legislation at the state and local level. “It may mean that in some states, for example, there may be confidence to go back to these issues," he said.
For Eva Kendrick, the Human Rights Campaign's Alabama state director, Tuesday's election results had an even bigger implication.
“What this win tonight shows is that our voices matter," Kendrick told NBC News Tuesday night. "For politicians who continue to attack the LGBTQ community as a cheap ploy to win votes, that strategy will no longer work across the United States.”
“We changed Alabama history," Kendrick added, and "we have set the tone now for the national landscape looking at the 2018 elections."