While we take half of a victory lap around today’s ENDA’s vote, it’s worth pondering one of the longer-term implication of the success in the Senate: the religious right’s inability to have a greater impact on the debate. There are two items of bad news for the antigay movement to come out of the vote. One is the split among Mormon senators. The other is the almost total silence of opponents of the measure.
Calling the Mormon Church an opponent of the gay rights movement is a massive understatement. But of the seven Senators who are Mormon, five of them voted to pass ENDA: Harry Reid, Tom Udall, Dean Heller, Jeff Flake and Orrin Hatch. (Mike Lee and Michael Crapo voted no.) Now Reid and Udall are Democrats, so you could argue their votes were to be expected, but the remaining three are Republicans. In particular, Hatch represents Utah, which is virtually synonymous with the Mormon Church, so he’s not likely to be taking positions that are going to enrage the Church.
In interviews with the LGBT press this week, Reid said, “When I attend church here in Washington, D.C., I bet more people agree with me than disagree with me, and so the church is changing, and that’s good.” That’s probably true. But the Church leadership seems to be sending a signal as well, and that signal is that it is backing off some gay issues. It’s still out there banging the drum against marriage equality, but workplace discrimination doesn’t seem worth the fight.
That’s not good news to Christian conservatives who oppose anything gay. They are dependent upon a philosophy that all things LGBT are universally deplorable and need to be stopped at all costs. If Mormons start peeling off from that group, it will be a lot smaller.
And it may be smaller than evangelicals want anyway. The second big story to come out of the ENDA vote was the silence of opponents. Only Dan Coats from Indiana got up on the Senate floor to oppose the bill. “Do we want to support policies that discriminate against an employer’s religious beliefs and require employers to hire individuals who contradict their very most deeply held religious beliefs?” Coats said, as if allowing LGBT people to earn a living violates Biblical principle.
Needless to say, the religious right is furious with the lack of spine on display. Ralph Reed, still looking for a comeback as a credible figure, said in an op-ed that ENDA is “a dagger aimed at the heart of religious freedom for millions of Americans.” You’d never know that from the crickets’ chirps emanating from the Senate floor. The ever reliable Bryan Fischer proclaimed himself “mystified and deeply disappointed” by the lack of pitched battle over ENDA.
What the silence shows is that, even though they still oppose gay rights, a lot of Republicans realize that talking about drag queens working in Christian bookstores just makes them look ridiculous nowadays. It would be interesting to know whether the American Unity Fund, the GOP group pushing the party on gay issues, convinced some opponents of the wisdom of keeping their traps shut even if it didn’t convince them to change sides.
None of this is good for the religious right in the long term. A division among allies, the silence of Republican leaders, and on top of that a highly publicized and symbolically important loss, all in the same week that another state approves marriage equality. It couldn’t happen to a better bunch.