I recently read this New York Times article on GOP donor support for same-sex marriage. Astonishingly, most of the new money to lobby for same-sex marriage in New York state is coming from wealthy donors to the Republican party.
Predictably, it’s seen from two angles: 1) libertarian – it’s not the state’s business to butt into people’s relationships – and 2) support for same-sex marriage is “good for business” and would be part of New York state’s “competitive advantage”.
Now, I am happy to see the fiscal conservative side of the Republicans break away from the nutty social conservative side, and the mainstreaming of and bipartisan support for marriage equality is a great thing. But I do wonder how far that will go. Because among all the issues on the agenda of queer civil rights, same-sex marriage is probably the easiest for fiscal conservatives to support or at least not attack – it doesn’t cost them anything and by now it’s more and more culturally acceptable.
ENDA: Against Discrimination on the Job
ENDA is the Employment Non-discrimination Act. It is a proposed federal law that has not yet passed but has steadily gained Congressional support over the last 15+ years. This is more important than same-sex marriage for many queer people in the US: how useful is marriage if neither one of you can get a job, or can be fired for being gay? (This is actually legal in almost 30 states.) However, this would directly affect the liberty of employers to hire and fire for any reason whatsoever – and libertarians are infamous for supporting that liberty, even going so far as to consider the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination based on race, to be improper government interference with business.
But what about a trans-inclusive ENDA?
There’s another thing that makes support for ENDA harder. The sticking point in recent years has been what discrimination the act should prohibit. If ENDA is worded to prohibit discrimination based on “sexual orientation or gender identity”, then transgender people are protected. If the phrase “gender identity” is left out, then they are not.
Grassroots queer rights activists, particularly the new, younger generation, are hugely supportive of equal rights for trans people – the “T” in LGBT. I have long admired the solidarity of lesbian, gay, and bi activists with trans people in this matter. There’s also a practical side to it – if, for example, an effeminate gay man is fired, not for being gay, but for being insufficiently masculine, he’s still out of a job.
Unfortunately, some of the big national groups, like the Human Rights Campaign, have waffled at times on supporting trans people in the name of political expedience. If gender identity is not protected now, it could take decades to add it.
But it does make passing ENDA harder, no question. If you think some people get uncomfortable acknowledging the existence and needs of gays and lesbians, try talking about trans people sometime. Most people don’t know that they know a trans person, they don’t “get” the issues involved, and many of them are, frankly, freaked out. It’s a long road of awareness, education, and reaching out to gain acceptance and understanding.
This uncomfortability plus its protection of worker rights means a good, trans-inclusive ENDA is unlikely to get support from the same wealthy donors. But if their support for same-sex marriage makes playing on homophobia less palatable to politicians, if freedom really is a competitive advantage, it may pave the way for more queer-friendly politics and laws in the coming years.