On my 18th birthday, I registered to vote as a Republican. As a proud Massachusetts native, however, I naturally disagree with the party line on certain issues. Opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is one of them.
ENDA is a proposed bill which has recently passed cloture in the Senate, with five Republicans crossing party lines to join the 55 Democrat senators in favor. It seeks to expand the protections afforded to suspect classes in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Although the popular objection to the act hinges on the claim that it forces folks to act contrary to their religious persuasions in offering protections for “deviants,” the bill actually includes an exemption for religious organizations more permissive than Title VII itself; while churches can currently employ preferentially on the basis of religion alone, under ENDA, they can perform wholesale discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. This cop-out might leave a bad taste in my mouth, but I recognize it pragmatically as necessary for the bipartisan support necessary to pass the bill in the House. This exemption isn’t enough for the mainstream Republican Party; the vitriol spewed forth paints an image of frivolous lawsuits, and teachers wearing drag. Truthfully, I can’t say I’m surprised. The impending legislative slaughter of ENDA by John Boehner is the latest incident in an apparent fervent desire to kill the party from within.
The Republican Party has a PR crisis. Increasingly, the party has demonstrated only legislative intransigence and divisiveness. Pundits are perfectly content to ascribe it wholly to biased reporting, but the problem lies instead in the vector of unapologetic bigotry along which the party is following. The great conservative statesman Barry Goldwater issued a solemn warning in 1994:
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
The mainstream Republican Party has demonstrated a contentedness to pander to a fundamentalist, conservative fringe in the party, at the expense of alienating all other demographics. Although “apologist” conservative organizations including GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans have attempted to repair some of the damage wrought unto LGBTQ voters, and neo-con icons including John Bolton and Dick Cheney have shown an apparent willingness to listen to the winds of change, the party proper has continued along in a reactionary manner. This trend expands beyond the party’s mistreatment of the LGBTQ community, as Republicans refuse to budge on issues of women’s health and immigration reform. For most young people, the thought of voting Republican is thus unconscionable. The party’s frankly backward social views are simply too extreme, regardless of fiscal policy persuasion.
I vote Republican because I am fortunately located in a state in which I can largely ignore the social issues side of the party’s platform; I can rationalize my choice along purely fiscal lines. If the Republican Party continues to show a willingness to be associated with an antiquated way of thinking, however, I will have to disaffiliate, and I won’t be the only one. If the Republican Party continues apace in its current direction in appealing only to a shrinking socially conservative minority, its downward slide in popular opinion can only worsen. If the Republican Party continues to stick its collective head in the sand, there very well may be a day in the near future in which the Grand Old Party is no more.