A Republican Facebook-friend recently chastised me saying, “Neither political party has the monopoly on bigotry.” The Senate vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) proved him wrong, at least on the cause of ending job-related discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons.
Every Senate Democrat supported ENDA. All nay votes came from Republicans including Mike Enzi. John Barrasso didn’t vote on final passage but earlier opposed ending the filibuster.
Enzi and Barrasso listened to extremists who supported the government shutdown and urged default on the national debt. Heritage Action issued a statement as devoid of facts as their attacks on Obamacare. “America has no… history of society-wide legal prohibitions on employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which makes this legislation unnecessary. Conversely, it would actually do harm to many Americans’ civil liberties and religious freedom.”
Republicans rejected pleas of the National Interfaith Alliance. “As a national organization whose more than 185,000 members are committed to religious freedom, championing individual rights, and promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, ENDA is a crucial part of our work protecting faith and freedom.”
Unless one backs blatant discrimination, there is no reasonable argument against giving GLBT people protections others have against job-related discrimination. It’s not as though we’re talking about “traditional marriage.” Mormons who oppose same-sex marriage supported ENDA. This is about basic human rights to economic security.
Current law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; protects people from sex-based wage discrimination; protects individuals 40 years-of-age or older from age discrimination; and prohibits employment discrimination against those with disabilities.
Another Republican friend pointed out it was mostly Democrats in Congress who opposed the civil rights legislation of the 60s. He’s right. When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 80% of the House Republicans and 82% of the Senate Republicans supported the bill while it received the support of only 61% of House Democrats and 66% of those in the Senate.
After he singed the bill into law, Lyndon Johnson told Bill Moyers, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come," he said.
He underestimated the length of time by a couple of generations. Among the Democrats who opposed civil rights for African-Americans was Senator Strom Thurmond who led an unsuccessful filibuster to stop the bill from passing. One by one other Southern Democrats became Republicans and the solid South was soon how we referred to Republican control.
Shamefully, the cause of the shift was civil rights for blacks. White Southerners attacked the law with much the same arguments their political heirs made against ENDA, claiming it violates states' rights, interferes with religious freedoms, interferes with employer rights, and will result in unnecessary lawsuits. When segregation was outlawed Southern Democratic governors led Orval Faubus of Arkansas, Lester Maddox of Georgia, and George Wallace of Alabama appealed to a less-educated, blue-collar electorate and opposed segregation.
Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.”
Republicans like Wyoming’s senators are claiming the mantle of those Southern Democrats. Neither has the courage to reject the dark angels of their party. There was a time when the religious right courted the Republican Party. Now the Party courts evangelicals even as they use Congress to pursue a theology that long ago failed in their pews.
Most segregationist Democrats eventually found a home in the GOP. Those who opposed civil rights for blacks are almost universally considered to have been on the wrong side of history. Even so, today most Democrats are embarrassed by a history that included those like Wallace and Thurmond who were willing to sell out the constitutional rights of marginalized Americans for a few extra votes.
Mike Enzi and John Barrasso are on the wrong side of history on this issue. Like Democrats looking back to the 60s, the day will come when Republicans become equally embarrassed by their politicians who voted to protect those who seek to discriminate.