Op-ed: Arizona Vetoed, But Is The GOP Listening?

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on Advocate.com February 27 2014 11:19 AM ET

While on stage at the University of Miami on Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton broke the news that Arizona governor Jan Brewer had vetoed her state's "license to discriminate" bill, suggesting it could be a sign of the times. “Inclusive leadership is really what the 21st century is all about,” Clinton said to huge applause. Any shrewd political operator could have told you that, but what's unfortunate is how many in the Republican Party seem poised to overlook the significance of this moment.

Bills like Arizona's have been proposed by conservative factions all over the country, in Maine, Idaho, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, Kansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Indiana, and Texas.

As I watched Rachel Maddow last night flash on screen a map of all the places where Republican lawmakers have considered kindred antigay laws, it reminded me of a similar map she'd often pull up for dramatic effect during the last election (the one in which Republicans unexpectedly lost seats in both the House and Senate). A rash of bills sought to limit abortion to smaller windows during pregnancy, or used quirks in law to virtually eradicate all clinics from the state, and some states even proposed those weird bills that required a physical exam to get an abortion and had Maddow nicknaming Bob McDonnell of Virginia as "Governor Ultrasound."

All of that wackiness was happening in the background when the likes of Todd Akin, who was running for Senate in Missouri, started making clueless comments about rape. The "War on Women" became a winning theme for Democrats. And if Republicans don't wake up soon, Democrats may dare to take advantage with the "War on Your Gay Neighbor."

What was striking about the "War on Women" was how Republicans seemed to be caught arguing about issues from history books. Should women take birth control? I thought we'd resolved that.

The country also thinks we've resolved this thing about discriminating against LGBT people. Americans aren't OK with it. The most recent poll on this was released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Here's what should be a frightening finding for the GOP: "Solid majorities of both political parties and every major religious group support workplace nondiscrimination laws for gay and lesbian people," the poll concluded. The political reality is that not only does everyone think it should be illegal to fire me for being gay, Americans think it already is. This poll and numerous before it find that 75 percent of Americans incorrectly believe it's now illegal under federal law to be fired over your sexual orientation or gender identity. It isn't.

Meanwhile, what are the Republicans doing? They're trying to pass state laws like the one in Arizona, hoping no one really notices. Plus, Speaker John Boehner won't allow the actual federal law banning my firing for being gay, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to even get a vote in the House. It's already passed the Senate.

LGBT Americans should give Brewer zero points in her favor for vetoing this bill, since she's not asking for any. In her statement announcing the veto, Brewer expressed concern that "long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before." She said "religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination." But if she really believes that, then the governor should call on legislators to amend the state's non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Pay no attention either to all the hubbub about how Mitt Romney plus Arizona's two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, called for Brewer to veto the bill. They are not representative of their party. The actual chairman of the GOP, Reince Preibus, refused to comment on the bill. And congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Boehner were also mum. Did you hear any of the party's prospective 2016 candidates speak up?

Politico actually tracked down Sen. Rand Paul and asked for his opinion. "Let me get back to you," Paul said.

Maybe he should talk to the likes of Apple, Delta, American Airlines, Pet Smart, and more, all of which said discriminating against LGBT people would make it hard to recruit new employees, could hurt tourism, and slow their profits.

While the business community seems to be getting a lot of the credit for successfully pressing Brewer to veto, my hope is the governor actually did it because it would have made Arizona and the GOP look outside the mainstream.  That's what it really means when huge companies show no qualms about lining up to oppose you. Yes, their business interests were at stake, but in order to take a public position a company had better be sure the potential backlash against its opinion isn't going to damage the bottom line either.

It looks like Republicans are still making that calculation.

 

LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. Contact him on Twitter @lucasgrindley.