Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 1, 2014

Gay Civil Rights Bill, a Test for the GOP, Moves to Hill Forefront

booker102713 445x296 Gay Civil Rights Bill, a Test for the GOP, Moves to Hill Forefront

Booker’s entry into the Senate could provide an essential vote to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

The Senate’s partisan balance will move a tick to the left Thursday, when Cory Booker takes his seat as the 55th member of the Democratic caucus. And the New Jersey newcomer looks increasingly likely to make a bit of history befitting his national profile only a few days later, by providing an essential vote to advance the most important civil rights bill of the decade.

Legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is on the cusp of securing a filibuster-crushing supermajority of 60 senators — close enough that proponents are ready to call the question.

Four Republicans have announced their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, along with 51 of the current Democrats. Another sure “yes” vote would come from Booker, who as mayor of Newark presided over the first same-sex marriage legally sanctioned by New Jersey, now the 14th state (plus the District of Columbia) where gay marriage is legal. “It’s about time,” he declared after the vows were exchanged a minute after midnight on Oct. 21.

That puts the vote count at 56. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who has made the bill his top priority before retiring next year, is working with the leadership to arrange debate in early November — and he’s said he wouldn’t ask for floor time until he was confident of victory.

The targets for the final votes are relatively easy to identify. Eleven gay rights, civil rights and labor organizations have formed Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a coalition that’s spending $2.5 million this month to deploy 30 field organizers to stage 150 grass-roots events and lobby uncommitted senators in nine states.

One of the advocacy groups — the American Unity Fund, a creation of big-time Republican donor and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer — has also hired former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and former Rep. Tom. Reynolds of New York (who ran the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2005 and 2006) to lobby for ENDA.

The Republican targets are Rob Portman in Ohio, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Dean Heller in Nevada, Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania, Dan Coats in Indiana and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who voted in the House to pass a somewhat narrower version of ENDA six years ago.

Eight Republicans, all of them gone now, voted for similar legislation 17 years ago, the only time it was been put before the Senate, when it was defeated by a single vote.

The three Democratic senators not already on board are also getting lobbied, but only Florida’s Bill Nelson seems up for grabs. (The others are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, the party’s most endangered incumbent of 2014, and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, whose cultural conservatism appears unbending.)

That the focus is on Republicans is a sign that LGBT advocates sense an opening to capitalize on efforts by the party establishment to grow their base in order to prevent a takeover by tea partyers and culture warriors, which could debilitate the GOP’s national prospects for years.

This year’s initial strategy for a bigger tent — backing an immigration overhaul that might boost the GOP’s share of the fast-growing Hispanic vote above its abysmal 27 percent in 2012 — now looks way more likely than not to remain stopped by the House’s most conservative bloc. A conscious effort to woo the steadily expanding LGBT vote, which was just 22 percent Republican last year, would be a next logical alternative; it also might help the party with younger voters and even libertarian independents. (One of the most prominent proponents of this approach is Ken Mehlman, a former top aide to a pair of conservative House Republicans from Texas who came out after chairing the Republican National Committee.)

Since the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act this year, that’s a topic almost exclusively for states to debate. But efforts to outlaw job bias have been a federal matter for six decades. And some congressional Republicans eye a new poll by the conservative firm Target Point as signaling it’s politically safe to join such an effort.

Four in five of the 2,000 registered voters surveyed assumed it’s already illegal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on sexual identity. Told such discrimination is permissible, 68 percent expressed support for a federal ban on such bias, including 56 percent of Republicans. The pollsters said such a bill had majority support in every state and was backed by more than 60 percent of voters in Flake’s Arizona, Pryor’s Arkansas, Ayotte’s New Hampshire and Toomey’s Pennsylvania.

While those numbers buttress the notion that Senate passage is nearly in the bag next month, the story remains far different in the House, where the main arguments against the bill seem to have significant currency. The business lobby fears such an expansion of federal civil rights law would subject companies to a wave of frivolous lawsuits. Cultural conservatives, led by the Family Research Council, say such a law would infringe on freedom of religion, although the bill would explicitly permit churches and other religious groups to make personnel decisions based on their faith’s tenets.

Of the bill’s 187 House sponsors, only three are from the GOP — so the majority of the majority is nowhere close to being found. Just nine additional Republicans remain from the 35 who voted for the ENDA bill that passed six years ago, though they haven’t committed themselves yet.

But among that group is the party’s 2012 candidate for vice president, and a potential contender for the top job next time. How Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan decides to play it — as advocate for equality and the big tent, or protector of social conservatism and corporate overhead — will send a signal about when his party will confront the arc of history.

  • rr_nyc

    What is a gay civil right?

    People are nuts.

    So people of certain sex preferences have rights the rest of us don’t have?

    • PILover

      I think the intent is to ensure they are treated equally as opposed to discriminated against. I don’t know though, as I have not seen the bill.

      • sulah

        I believe there is far less discrimination than we are led to believe. I’ve been around many gays and have yet to see anything out of the ordinary. Most people are willing to live and let live and go on about their business but I realize there are always exceptions to the rule. There has been far more discrimination against Jews/christians than any other but we do not see them forcing their agenda on others. All we/they ask for is equal time and rights to make our own choices for our homes, families, and businesses. However, the gays are now forcing/shoving their personal agenda/choices down my/our throat on every front……I’ve never forced my religious beliefs on anyone, If they don’t want to hear what I have to say, ask me to be quiet…….I gain nothing by offending others but gays take delight in offending non-gays….examples are ‘gay-pride’ parades….what an abomination and even more so the people that take their children to gawk at the mis-fits. Gays are not entitled to any special treatment anymore than others are. It seems that in today’s liberal society the only three factions receiving special rights: gays, illegals and muslims. What a prideful bunch!!!!!

        • chillinout.

          Yet it’s always been white heterosexual Christians who have done the persecuting in this country. Religion is a choice, race and sexual orientation are not

          • craig

            Yes, everyone other than white heterosexual Christians are ever so pleasant to everyone. Those evil white Christians are always messing with someone.
            ….You are unbelievably naive!

          • chillinout.

            I’ve never seen black jewish lesbians attacking anyone elses rights

          • sulah

            I will agree, many atrocities have been committed in the ‘name’ of God but I can attest, the ONE true GOD DID NOT sanction those atrocities. Evil ‘uses’ christianity to condone it’s actions. Yes, religion is a choice but remember religion is a figment of man’s imagination. Religiosity is also used to validate one’s personal beliefs. However, I speak of the belief system that embraces the ONE true GOD, the GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There in lies the truth/teachings and moral standards for mankind. You are mislead, sexual orientation is most definitely a choice…..you either accept God’s teachings on homosexuality or you don’t. One choice leads to eternal life, the other leads to death.

          • chillinout.

            You are misled on sexual orientation. It isn’t a choice at all, and any “god of love” wouldn’t see sexual orientation as an issue. Only unintelligent bigots take issue with it

          • sulah

            Well, It is obvious you do not know God…..yes, HE loves in a way you/I will never be able to comprehend but in HIS perfection HE is a GOD of wrath too. If you read the Bible, you would know this but it is obvious you do not read the Word of God….so you will never understand sin, consequences of sin, Etc. God loves ALL but HE hates sin…..homosexuality is sin but there is redemption for all who seek it. If you are as smart at you think you are, then I think you would seek truth regardless of the outcome. Truth is life. To sin is to choose to directly disobey God. SELAH

          • chillinout.

            Yet you accept divorce, adultery, and pre-marital sex just fine. Fact is, you’re a hypocrite. You accept things you have done, or may do in the future as a way to “save your soul”, and condemn things that don’t interest you. Religion is being used as an excuse by adult brats who don’t get their way all the time, so they throw tantrums about it

          • sulah

            It matters not what I /you/the world accepts or doesn’t accept. Truth is ALL the above you mentioned is SIN before God. All is forgivable ONLY upon repentance. HE WILL judge each and everyone of us….and that means you and me. “To fear GOD is the beginning of wisdom”

          • chillinout.

            And you nor I know definitely in his existence or his intentions. The bible is not written or “inspired” by God, it was written by man to control the population of illiterate peasants. To understand that, is the beginning of wisdom

          • 1mrt1

            Wow….that is incredibly dumb of you to think that

          • chillinout.

            It’s incredibly dumb of you not realize that it’s true

          • 1mrt1

            I have faith…you have only distrust.

          • chillinout.

            You have a brainwashed belief

          • 1mrt1

            At least I have a brain….:)

          • chillinout.

            Such an intelligent comeback. No wonder conservative states are the least educated and least wealthy states in the country :)

          • 1mrt1

            Thanks…when you stereotype like you just did it shows you have low IQ.

          • chillinout.

            Ahhh, I’m debating an 8 year old. Conservatives brainwash young, clearly

          • 1mrt1

            Your broken brain needs to be fixed. Fix your brain. Your brain is broken.

          • 1mrt1

            You have a broken brain. You need to fix your brain. Your brain needs repair. Fix your brain.

  • iamsaved2

    It should be an easy decision for a true conservative Republican. This is nothing but a “special rights” bill under the guise of a civil right.

    • chillinout.

      Conservatives have never stood up for anyone’s civil rights but their own, why start now?

      • craig

        really? Specify ONE conservative organization who does not stand up for civil rights.

        • chillinout.

          Name ONE conservative organization that does stand up for civil rights. (And no, forcing your religion on society isn’t a right)

          • craig

            so, you can’t name one so you try to turn the question around? And apparently you believe forcing your sexuality on society is a right, but someone practicing a religion is not? What a pompus hyprocrite you are.

          • chillinout.

            If gays forced their sexuality on society the way evangelicals force their religion on society, gays would be forcing everyone to be gay. Being openly gay in public is not a “special right”, it’s the same as heterosexuals “forcing” their sexuality on the public. You’re just a brainwashed imbecile

          • craig

            Everyone who has an opinion other than your closed one is apparently a “brainwashed imbecile”. If I paraded down the street naked in front of kids, I would be arrested, as I should be. It is not a “right”.
            I’m still waiting on the name of that conservative group that is against civil rights.

          • chillinout.

            I’m still waiting on the conservative group that favors civil rights. Being a social conservative and favoring civil rights are in contradiction of each other, so I guess I’ll be waiting til cows grow wings

          • craig

            You made the first statement,, I called you out on it, and you can not provide one group’s name. I’ll name them as soon as you name ONE

          • chillinout.

            Take your pick! Clearly your intelligence is non-existent yet again! If I say every conservative group stand against civil rights, then any conservative group out there would fit the definition. Even a simpleton could understand that. But to cater to the special, I’ll name a few: Heritage, AFA, John Birch, FRC.

          • craig

            But, to answer your question, how about the Republican Party, who fought for the civil rights act of 1964, whereas the republicans had over 80% voting for the acts and the democrats had roughly 40% against it

          • chillinout.

            Which also means that 60% of democrats supported the civil rights act, nice try on your slick play of words. Can you remind me who the president was in 1964?… Once again, I said conservative, not republican. Up until 1964, the republican party was seen as liberal (hence why they never won in the south), while democrats had split between northern labor union liberals and southern dixiecrats. Once the conservatives hijacked the republican party in 1980, the south flipped to republican and has since remained there. The main obstruction to progress in this country has always been and still remains the south

          • craig

            So you are you saying 60% is more than the 80%?
            That old b.s. argument does not work. Let me use your own argument…. Who was the president? So, by your argument JFK would be a conservative republican of today? How can you possibly say a conservative is racist??? it is utter nonsense! The democrats have always been the party of racism, and they still are today! THey did not “flip” parties, that is assinine!

  • craig

    I’d like to pass a bill to ensure people with giant tattoos over their faces and dozens of piercings are not discriminated in the workplace.

    Another to ensure people who don’t bathe or wash their clothes are discriminated in the workplace.

    Maybe one that ensures people who dress in scantly clad underwear, and tight leather aren’t discriminated in the workplace.

    • Gregory Smith

      Aw, but that is a lifestyle choice, like being fat or smoking. See? This is why I hate ALL protected categories, including race and religion. If I want to start K K chiKen and only hire straight white servants, that’s my business prerogative, and it’s the marketplace that should decide if I win and lose. Of course, back in the 1960s people were outraged by segregation and Jim Crow (which was GOVERNMENT-mandated by the way) and thus decided the solution was more government instead of less. So today we’re stuck with protected categories. Here’s an idea, work where you are wanted. Why is that so hard? I don’t work at Abercrombie because they don’t want 38-year old guys like me, you don’t see me suing for discrimination. Life is tough, deal with it.
      http://sellingthesecondamendment.com

    • chillinout.

      Maybe we should discriminate against Christians, and fire them for no reason other than they’re belief in Christianity. I’m sure you’d be okay with that

  • Snxx

    What they truly need to pass is a bill to protect those who don’t believe in “gay marriage” in the workplace.

    • chillinout.

      Or just fire the homophobic bigots

  • sulah

    You don’t want truth, you want to argue/debate……..hope you find peace some day…….but you will not find it in your anger/bitterness…..

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