When the South starts giving up on gay marriage, it’s time for the GOP to at least give in on ENDA

Republican Speaker of the US House John Boehner yesterday came out in opposition to legislation banning employment discrimination against gays (ENDA).

Then, in a move intended to somehow deflect criticism that he’s a flaming bigot, Boehner’s office issued a clarification saying Boehner’s opposition to the civil rights law wasn’t “news,” since he’s been opposed to helping gays for years.

Yes, that helps.

And while it’s true that the Republican party’s disdain for gays, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, Jews, and women (among others) isn’t anything “new” – it’s quite old, in fact – what is newsworthy is the GOP’s stubborn refusal, or rank inability, to evolve with the times.

Also newsworthy is their penchant for lying in order to cover up their prejudice.  Sam Stein has more from a Boehner aide:

“We have always believed this is covered by existing law,” the aide said, adding that it is “not a new issue or a new position — it’s a longstanding position, and, frankly, not ‘news’ at all. This has been his position, on the record, for years, stated publicly many times.”

If Speaker Boehner has always believed that discrimination based on sexual orientation is covered by existing law, then Speaker Boehner is a bit of an idiot.


GOP US House Speaker John Boehner

Now, granted, one has to give the Speaker a little leeway as most Republican leaders aren’t terribly familiar with the concept of civil or human rights.  So they probably make the same mistake a lot of Americans do, thinking that “discrimination” is already “illegal” in America, and certainly “banned by the Constitution.”

In fact, generally speaking, the only “discrimination” in employment that’s banned is discrimination that is specifically listed in the law.  The current categories in the law are: race, skin color, religion, national origin, disability, gender, and age.  Sexual orientation isn’t in the list, nor is gender identity, so it is legal under federal law to fire someone for being gay or transgender. It is also legal to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, and for being trans in 33 states. ENDA would fix that under federal law.

So Speaker Boehner is wrong when he says that “this” is covered by existing law. It’s not. It is however a handy talking point for reinforcing the public’s existing confusion about the law.  And as I always say, Republicans learned long ago that the truth usually doesn’t win them many fights.  So they tend to embrace the alternative.

In spite of all that, ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act), passed a key hurdle last night in the US Senate, and is headed towards a final vote in that body this week.

The problem now – assuming ENDA does pass the Senate – is going to be the Republican-controlled House.

I harbor no illusions that the House is going to pass ENDA.  I do however think that anti-gay prejudice in the year 2013 is about as popular as a government shutdown.  And the ENDA vote in the House, at the very least, is one more stake in the heart of GOP extremism, helping to expose that party’s bigots to the light of day, and to American voters.

And while intolerance plays well with half the party base (the Tea Partyers seem far less interested in gay-bashing than their religious right GOP-base brethren), it doesn’t serve the Republicans terribly well in America’s big cities, or in national elections.

And if recent polls are to believed, even the South, the GOP’s last bastion of intolerance, is heading south.

A new gay marriage poll in South Carolina ought to give Republicans pause – so says Washington Post political analyst Chris Cillizza.  The poll shows that only 52% of South Carolinians oppose legal recognition of gay marriage.  Here’s Cillizza:

There’s a fascinating new poll number out of South Carolina that tells you everything you need to know about where the politics of same-sex marriage in the country are headed and why Republicans need to be very careful with how they handle the issue in the coming years….

Republicans, particularly those with an eye on a future national bid in 2016 or beyond, would do well to take note of the movement on gay marriage in South Carolina. While a Republican primary electorate — like, say, for the state’s first-in-the-South presidential primary in 2016 —  will still likely be strongly opposed to gay marriage, the simple fact is that the movement on the issue is all in one direction. And, for a party that currently finds itself struggling to build a national coalition in future presidential elections, this poll should be a wake-up call.

And while the poll was about gay marriage and not ENDA, banning discrimination in the workplace is a far less controversial topic than two men getting hitched.

So in the end, John Boehner is right. His anti-gay bigotry isn’t new.  It is, however, starting to get old.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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