Where I live the storm windows are up, the snow boots dusted off, and the boiler is on. The annual change from fall to winter is upon us. Change is also in the air in Washington, where a newly minted Democratic controlled Congress is holding freshman orientation. Of course, nothing happens till after the “clink clink” of champagne glasses in January. Still, now is the time to give “thanks” for the change in the political climate.

Of course, a change in political climate does not always equal progress, I know this. I found myself one day trying to convince Dan to do his gay civic duty and vote Democratic. “Baby girl,” he started, “you think we all just vote for the Democrats and everything's peaches and herb?” I had to admit, Democrats have failed us in the past. Particularly the sting of former President Bill Clinton's signing of the federal DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act) and an undelivered campaign promise to allow openly gay men and women to serve in the military, instead opting for the compromise “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” anti-gay policy.

That's why it's especially reassuring to hear many Democratic leaders speaking to the gay electorate. Recently Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the party needed to encourage greater gay visibility in the party. “We've got to share power, not just responsibility, from now on,” Dean said. He was speaking at the International Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference, an annual gathering of gay public officials.

Dean's favorable nature may stem from recent data showing that gay support might have been the linchpin that won them control of the Senate. In Virginia, where a tight Senate race was won by Democrat James Webb, it was the effort to defeat Virginia's proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that drew thousands of progressive voters to the polls. These voters watered down the margin of victory for the amendment to only 57%, which is much lower than the average 75% which we have seen in the past. People who were voting against the amendment also generally voted for Webb and handed the Democrats control of the Senate for the next two years.

It's not just platitudes that the Democrats are speaking, substantial action is being promised. Openly gay Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass) has already predicted committee hearings on an employment nondiscrimination bill and on the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” anti-gay policy. Contrast that with the current Republican controlled Congress which refused even holding committee hearings on gay issues.

Most of the gratitude goes to the American electorate itself. Not only was a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage defeated in Arizona, the first ever, but voters also removed five of the most ardent anti-gay Senators – Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum, Ohio's Mike DeWine, Virginia's George Allen, Missouri's Jim Talent, and Montana's Conrad Burns. Their absence will certainly improve the odds of pro-gay measures passing.

This year change brings hope to gay Americans. That's a real reason to be thankful.