Rand Paul retreats to states’ rights on LGBT hiring discrimination

On Wednesday, Rand Paul put himself in some hot water when he was a hair too libertarian for polite political discourse, telling an audience at Drake University in Iowa that employers should be able to discriminate against LGBT people in the hiring and firing processes. As he explained, he doesn’t want to set up “a whole industry for people who want to sue,” and that “there are plenty of places that will hire you” if you’re gay.

After facing a fair bit of backlash immediately following his comments, which were (rightly) interpreted as him calling for a version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for the entire economy, requiring LGBT people to stay in the closet for fear of being fired, he attempted to walk back his position yesterday. He didn’t mean that employers should be able to fire LGBT people willy-nilly, he just thinks that the issue should be left to the states:

This policy represents precisely zero change from the status quo, at least in the private sector. While the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has already ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents federal agencies from hiring and firing based on sexual or gender identity, that ruling has not been applied to non-federal employers. This being the case, it remains legal in 28 states to fire someone for no reason other than being gay.

In attempting to clarify his remarks, Paul did say that he thinks it’s a crying shame if you’re fired based on things “from your personal life,” telling Wolf Blitzer that “I might have been able to word it better, but I don’t think [being gay] should enter the decision at all.” But while an employer might be a jerk for firing someone based on who they love, in Paul’s view that employee shouldn’t be allowed to sue their employer unless they get the go-ahead from their state.

Or, in Jeb Bush’s terms: Fired for being gay? Stuff happens.

Rand Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

Rand Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

States’ rights is a convenient cop-out for politicians who don’t want to say that they don’t support a popular policy — employment non-discrimination is so popular that most Americans already think it’s a federal law — but Paul’s retreat to federalism was hasty and transparent. It was even too much for the Log Cabin Republicans, who applauded Paul’s assertion that being fired for being gay is bad but nevertheless called his position out as a dodge. As their president, Gregory Angelo, told the Washington Blade, “The state-by-state punt that Sen. Paul — and others like Jeb Bush — make on this point is perplexing. If firing someone for their sexual orientation is wrong, then it should be wrong in, say, Arkansas just as much as it’s wrong in Vermont.”

Rand Paul may not personally like it when people are fired due to their sexual and gender identities, but the consequences of the policies Rand Paul supports and opposes mean that, across the country, Americans will continue to be fired due to their sexual and gender identities. This being the case, his clarification is no better than his original position.

In light of Paul’s twisting and turning on LGBT workplace discrimination, it’s worth revisiting what Paul had to say about the Civil Rights Act and racial discrimination in 2010. Here’s an excerpt of an interview he gave to the Louisville Courier-Journal:

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.


PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners — I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant — but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.

INTERVIEWER: But under your philosophy, it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworth’s?

PAUL: I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part — and this is the hard part about believing in freedom — is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example — you have to, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things and uh, we’re here at the bastion of newspaperdom, I’m sure you believe in the First Amendment so you understand that people can say bad things.It’s the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior, but if we’re civilized people, we publicly criticize that, and don’t belong to those groups, or don’t associate with those people.

America decided to reject this “Ew, but go ahead” position on discrimination a long time ago. Paul has since distanced himself from this position on racial discrimination, and he was right to do so. Perhaps he’ll go through the same evolution on LGBT discrimination, as well.

But in a Republican primary, I wouldn’t count on it.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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26 Responses to “Rand Paul retreats to states’ rights on LGBT hiring discrimination”

  1. rmthunter says:

    It’s a matter of finding the balance point: yes, we operate mostly by majority rule (or we used to), but we have Constitutional guarantees of individual rights.

    As for whose values trump whose, it’s a characteristic I’ve noticed in “Christians,” libertarians, and two-year-olds: solipsism.

  2. rmthunter says:

    I’m still trying to figure out the rationale behind the idea that the federal government is bad, but state governments are somehow better, when reality has shown us just the opposite.

  3. mf_roe says:

    I view science fiction with affection, I love much of what Rodenberry tried to present in Star Trek, but as stated even in that universe the assumption is that Humans had some sacred right to impose their values on organisms separate and logically equal to mankind.

    Maybe the GODS don’t have human flaws and just maybe we should not judge that which we don’t understand. Familiar with the Q Continuum episodes? Didn’t they leave you dissatisfied when the transgressions of one of it’s members was handled in very Human fashion?

    All Utopias depend on the same fallacy, that human nature can be willed into a state that has never existed. We live in a world where compromise appears almost impossible which makes our Constitution a Utopian fantasy.

    As for angry, guilty, aren’t you.

  4. Indigo says:

    You’ve reached a fresh layer of angry, I see. Take a deep breath, smile, and remember that the Force is on Star Wars. Star Trek is just another bull shit fantasy world like any other Utopia. They’re never real. But they can make you smile when you’re ready to.

  5. mf_roe says:

    A bull shit fantasy world where human nature has been magically transformed while still espousing the use of FORCE to impose values on OTHERS.

  6. mf_roe says:

    Modern Libertarian theory’s central flaw is it’s inability to accept the Right of the Collective as being just as fundamental as the Right of the Individual. Thomas Jefferson wrestled with that one and never quite nailed it. You can find him justifying resisting majority will in many of his writings. Jefferson’s problem was that he saw the flaw of majority rule—it CAN be wrong. He understood that dissent was an obligation and ultimately the only way to fight a bad policy of the majority.

    At the same time good ol’ Tom was a very damaged individual, a slave owner who KNEW all men should be treated as equals, a white bigot that refused to acknowledge his mixed race children. As a president who vigorously pushed to expand the power of the executive–something he had opposed when his political opponents held power. Jefferson’s redeeming value is that he appears to have understood the basic flaws of these positions.

    I see none of the current crop of “Libertarians” who even understand that there is a basic irrationality in their agenda.
    Paul like the rest is reduced to grasping at straws to explain why his values trump all opposing viewpoints. Since he can’t allow the possibility of his position being wrong he is unable to justify his assertion that the other side is wrong..

  7. MoonDragon says:

    Positions they believe they can maintain by rigging the game.

  8. BeccaM says:

    And then there’s also the ‘sovereign citizen’ angle often espoused by the more radical libertarians, where for them the courts are like some kind of alchemical laboratory. Where they have this insane notion if they come up with just the right kind of legal-sounding gibberish or or add punctuation to their names, suddenly all of law will unfold like a lotus and magically produce whatever results have been demanded.

  9. emjayay says:

    In that way it probably has something to do with being raised (Texas) and living in (Kentucky) the Confederacy. They lost.

  10. emjayay says:

    It seems like a kind of Bizarro world utopia, though.

  11. BeccaM says:

    As I’ve remarked before, those who argue most vehemently against civil rights laws never imagine they themselves will suffer actual discrimination, because they argue from a position not of equality but of exclusive privileges that they wish to deny to others.

  12. Houndentenor says:

    In other words, discrimination is fine so long as enough people aren’t bother by it to stand up. And what’s worse when referencing civil rights is that anyone who did dare stand up was threatened with crosses burning in their yard and sometimes they were even lynched, tortured and even burned alive. That’s the reality of this issue. I don’t know how ignorant or delusional someone has to be in order to think that the deep south would have ended segregation on its own. There were still schools with separate white and black proms into this decade. State’s rights is nothing but a talking point to justify racial oppression and even slavery.

  13. BeccaM says:

    Partly it’s libertarianism, and partly it’s a rejection of the United States and the ideal of universal fundamental civil rights.

    Something like 80% of the country thinks people shouldn’t be fired or denied housing over sexual orientation, but that number is significantly lower in some states. Rand Paul and guys like him want to reduce the playing field, so to speak, until they can win.

    And of course, it’s the hypocrisy: They want a government that’s big enough to oppress anyone they don’t like, but which leaves them alone. It’s not even a size thing, big gov’t vs small.

  14. Hue-Man says:

    Government by rose-colored glasses. “It would be nice if people didn’t rob banks. It would be nice if people didn’t shoot each other. It would be nice if people didn’t drive faster than 50 MPH. It would be nice if people paid the right amount of taxes.”

    “But I will not enact any laws to turn those dreams into reality and I will repeal all laws previously enacted.”

    “Leave me alone so I can go count my money in my vault.” Bit confusing since Government – with a capital G – issues money.

    Welcome to the United States of Anarchy.

  15. Indigo says:

    In the great spectrum of unrealistic utopian fantasies, I stand with Star Trek.

  16. Indigo says:

    How do you get to that conclusion?

  17. nicho says:

    Libertarians are too scatter brained to be “about” anything. Their so-called philosophy is just a mash-up of unrealistic utopian fantasies.

  18. 2karmanot says:

    A review of the Republican candidates for the most powerful executive position on the planet does not bode well for the mega empire that is America, or for that matter, the basic Constitutional principles on which the old Republic was founded. Only outside of an satirical surreal theater production can be found such a cadre of stupid, venal, low character and dumbfoundingly dimwitted and uniformed morons.

  19. Bill_Perdue says:

    Paul isn’t the only one dodging the issue. Democrats and Republicans have pigheadedly refused to pass anti-discrimination laws protecting the LGBT communities when they have even a small chance of being enacted. “ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 except the 109th. Similar legislation has been introduced without passage since 1974. Wiki Democrats controlled the House from 2006 on but in 2007 they gutted ENDA after Quisling Barney Frank’s vicious smear campaign against the trans community and militant gays.

    After Obama’s election Democrats again refused to pass it because they controlled both houses and Obama would have been forced to sign it and he was defending it in the courts to pander to the cults and to his Republican brothers and sisters.

    “The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.” Obama, in an interview with Noticias Univision 23. ABC News, 12 15 2012


  20. The_Fixer says:

    Please tell us how. Please fill us in on the mechanics of how that works.

  21. The_Fixer says:

    You forgot to mention that the Libertarians want to eschew regulation in favor of settling things in court.

    It’s especially laughable to logical people. Courts make decisions as a matter of law. If there are no laws or regulation, on what basis are they to make a decision?

    Not to mention that the courts will simply be overloaded with litigants looking for justice. Some may be frivolous, but likely that won’t be known for several years. Some of these people will die before their case is even heard. What’s that about justice delayed?

    The state’s-rights-let’s-settle-it-in-court philosophy is just another stupid idea from Libertarians who thing that they have all the answers.

  22. emjayay says:

    He wants to be a libertarian, then he wants to be elected too.

  23. emjayay says:

    OK, stating the obvious as usual, but Rand Paul’s personal feelings of course mean nothing to any employer anywhere. And why exactly should human rights and equality and equal treatment under the law etc. be up to each state? Oh, because in every way anything private should be able to do whatever the hell it wants to and the marketplace and informed consumers and the invisible hand will solve everything.

    If every state was libertarian there would be no anti-discrimination laws in any state either.

    Libertarians are mainly about IT’S MINE.

  24. FLL says:

    By that logic, any anti-discrimination law at all, no matter who it protects, interferes with constitutional rights. Either throw all anti-discrimination laws out or keep them all. You can’t play favorites and just throw out anti-discrimination laws for the demographic that you personally dislike. To put it another way, the earth revolves around the sun. The sun doesn’t revolve around your mouth.

  25. Me Who says:

    He’s right! He’s protecting the same Constitutional rights that made even having this discussion possible in the first place.

  26. Indigo says:

    Predictable. Paul Rand has more redefined positions than any other elected official I can think of. Maybe that’s what it is to be a Libertarian. Now with Democrats, as the party weaves through issues, aggressive Democrats (Hillary comes to mind) weave with the flow. But with Libertarians . . . I have the impression they make it up as they go along.

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