Midterm elections are rarely favorable to the President’s party and, true to history, the Democrats took a beating on Election Day. Republicans picked up enough seats to gain control of the Senate, which means that come next year, Congress could be entirely in the control of Republicans. That makes President Obama the sole firewall against a conservative onslaught.
Here are five antigay issues that are bound to arise now that the GOP has full rein of Congress…
1. Endless attacks on marriage equality
At this point, there’s not a lot that Congress can realistically do about marriage equality. The Supreme Court has pretty much spoken, and states are falling in line. But the same could have been said about Obamacare, and that didn’t stop Republicans from shutting down the government for 17 days last year in the vain quest to kill the law. Realism is not the GOP’s strong suit these days, especially in the Ted Cruz wing of the party.
What will happen is a lot of symbolic gesturing that will still be damaging to the LGBT community. There will be bills to resuscitate DOMA and resolutions trumpeting support for traditional marriage. None of these will have any practical effect, but they will have a psychologically one, by de-legitimizing same-sex marriages and empowering opponents of marriage equality. To some extent, we will still have to play defense, particularly since the Supreme Court has chosen not to issue the final word yet.
2. Open war over Supreme Court nominees
And because the Supreme Court ducked the issue this year, any vacancy on the Supreme Court will immediately become an all-out war over marriage equality. Marriage equality will be as much a litmus test as reproductive rights. Republicans controlling the Senate will never allow an openly pro-marriage nominee to be seated on the bench. (Given their embrace of obstructionism to date, they may never allow an Obama nominee on the bench at all.)
The fight will be especially fierce if one of the departing justice is one of the five that struck down DOMA. That means a single vote in the opposite direction could halt the progress of marriage equality. This will become a do-or-die battle for the right, and Republicans getting ready to go into the 2016 presidential campaign will be in no position to stake out a middle-of-the-road position. The right wing has signaled it’s ready for a party civil war on this issue, and the Supreme Court nominee will be a call to arms.
3. Enshrining religious liberty in legislation
Looking to shore up the party base in advance of the presidential election, Congressional Republicans will likely turn to the refuge of the homophobic: religious liberty. In order to make the world safe for anti-marriage bakers, the GOP will look to create a right-wing version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that will specifically exempt individuals from following laws that they object to on religious grounds. That would mean not just marriage equality laws, but even nondiscrimination laws.
The Supreme Court gave Congress the green light to pursue this carve-out for homophobes in its Hobby Lobby ruling. Such a law might eventually fail a constitutional challenge, but then again, maybe not. In the meantime, the damage it would cause would be incalculable.
4. Kiss ENDA goodbye
ENDA has about as much chance of passage in a Republican-controlled Congress as Mitch McConnell has of winning RuPaul’s Drag Race. Two more years of delay doesn’t mean much to a bill that’s been kicking around for nearly two decades, but at some point the stench of failure becomes impossible to remove and the bill becomes a zombie–dead but not buried. It also means that nondiscrimination protections in the workplace will still be hit-or-miss, leaving many states where you can both get married and get fired.
5. Creating a forum for nutburgers
The loony right will always be with us, but now they will have a loudspeaker in Congress. We will be subjected to all kinds of ‘expert’ testimony from antigay activitists. It’s already happening in the House, where the head of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty recently testified before a subcommittee about the “apparent hostility” the Obama administration was showing to evangelicals in the military. Appearing before a Senate committee is great not just for legitimacy but also for fundraising, and the antigay right will clamor for every opportunity to talk about the gay threat.
Now President Obama can stop a number of these problems. He can veto bad legislation, and Republicans won’t have enough votes to override his veto. But he can’t stop the efforts to erode, derail or otherwise delay the gains we’ve made. He won’t be able to make things happen that might help us.
The problem could be short-lived. The 2016 Senate map favors the Democrats, so Republicans may hold onto the Senate for just two years. (It will be a while before they lose control of the House because Republican-controlled states have redrawn districts to ensure the maximum number of GOP seats.) In the meantime, though, the damage will have been done.
The only upside: voters won’t take kindly to restarting the culture wars. In the end, the party may end up doing as much damage to itself as it does to us. But after this election’s results, that’s pretty cold comfort.