A Gay Rights Opportunity Wasted by the GOP

Republicans should have gotten on-board with an LGBT amendment to the immigration bill.

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This post was co-authored by Palmer Gibbs, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance editor and journalist. She writes about American politics, culture, and religion.

During President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency, Democrats gained the loyalty of black voters by campaigning on promises to push for greater civil rights and provide relief to those hit hard by the Great Depression – blacks were the first to lose their jobs and experienced unemployment rates three times higher than whites. But Democrats broke their promises.

Northern Democrats and the 32nd president bowed to pressure from southern Democrats to exclude blacks from New Deal relief programs, remain silent on anti-lynching laws and condone segregation. Democrats asked blacks to be patient, a wait so aptly described by Langston Hughes in his 1934 New Republic poem the "Ballad of Roosevelt."

Congress is now asking the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to wait. Bowing to pressure from Senate Democrats, and facing overwhelming opposition from Republicans, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., withdrew his amendment to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that would have allowed same-sex bi-national couples to apply for visas. Republicans said they would oppose the entire immigration reform package if gay couples were included.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Just a few months ago, the Republican National Committee was pressing steak on eyes blackened by Mitt Romney's pounding defeat. Romney lost 73 percent of the Hispanic, 94 percent of the black, 72 percent of the Asian, and 76 percent of the LGBT vote to President Obama. His loss compelled the RNC to soul-search, an exercise that produced the "Growth and Opportunity Project," a post-mortem analysis admitting that the GOP failed because voters think the party doesn't "care about people." That it's a "scary," "narrow-minded," "out of touch," organization full of "stuffy old men."

The report listed recommendations that would put the party on a vote-winning path of success grounded on an inclusive message. Republicans would become more empathetic to minority issues and recruit more to run for office. Yet, the GOP's categorical threat to pull its support from the entire immigration bill reduces these recommendations to empty promises offered by politicians who refuse to walk-the-talk.

Any goodwill Republicans have gained from minority voters over the last few months now lies in ruins on the senate floor. Their opposition to giving same-sex bi-national spouses the same equality as opposite sex spouses is a losing strategy. The GOP's anti-gay stance is, to borrow from its post-mortem, "out of touch."

Support for marriage equality is growing by leaps and bounds. More and more states – whether by popular vote or through legislation – are making same-sex marriage legal. Moreover, the Supreme Court will probably rule against the Defense of Marriage Act when it issues its United States v. Windsor ruling later this month.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

If Republicans want to win the White House in 2016 and retake control of the Senate next year, they must respond to public opinion. A March 2013 Pew Research Center poll indicates that 49 percent of Americans support marriage equality, and 70 percent of Millennials – voters born after 1980 – think the same. Even more compelling, a poll released this week by the group Immigration Equality revealed that 64 percent of Hispanics support allowing same-sex couples to apply for visas. Americans overwhelmingly believe in equality, and they expect politicians to do the same.

Republicans should get in front of this debate. They would do well to follow the leads of senators Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and representatives Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FLa. All support marriage equality. Ros-Lehtinen has been particularly resolute. She co-sponsored a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the first Republican to do so. Because, as she explained in Equality Magazine, "you're free to vote your conscience and no one has ever castigated me or looked down upon me because I vote my conscience."

Republicans must commit to their Growth and Opportunity project. They have an opportunity win over a large portion of the electorate by truly demonstrating that they're a "Big Tent." If they refuse, they'll end up on the same side of history as New Deal southern Democrats.

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