A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that a record majority of Americans supports marriage equality, with 59 percent in favor and 38 percent opposed, and that half of Americans believe marriage for gays and lesbians is a constitutional right.
Ten years ago it was the complete inverse, with 59 percent opposed. It shows how rapidly opinions have changed on the issue among Americans. Even majorities of people in the 33 states with bans on gay marriage support marriage equality. And in the wake of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's veto last week of an anti-gay "religious liberties" bill, nearly 70 percent of Americans in the poll say businesses should not be allowed, based on religious beliefs, to turn away gay people.
But among Republicans, not much has changed. Only 40 percent of GOPers support marriage equality, while a majority is opposed. Six in 10 evangelical Protestants, who make up a large part of the base of the GOP, are opposed to marriage equality. Bills to allow businesses to discriminate in the states based on "religious liberties" have been driven by GOP politicians trying to give some red meat to the religious right in an election year. While Arizona's governor vetoed that state's bill, and other states pulled back, in Arizona and Mississippi and elsewhere anti-gay forces are determined to fine-tune and narrow these bills and get them passed.
In the Washington Post over the weekend, several anti-gay leaders, including Peter Sprigg from the Family Research Council (FRC), who has said in the past that homosexuality should be criminalized again and that he'd like to "export homosexuals," said he and his group and others are not giving up. The GOP leadership continues to pander to homophobes like FRC -- at its own peril, as it's clear how isolated the GOP is becoming from the general public on this issue.
And yet in this one area, many LGBT groups, like the Human Rights Campaign, in their zeal to get any form of federal protections passed, have isolated themselves from the American public as well, according the new poll, pandering to the GOP and conservative Democrats in the way that the GOP panders to the religious right.
As I wrote several months ago, the religious exemption in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which finally passed in the Senate late last year, is a throwback to the 1990s, when ENDA was first introduced; the bill wasn't updated to the times we live in. While ENDA would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, it exempts businesses owned by religious groups, like a hospital owned by the Catholic Church, allowing such businesses, which serve the general public, to fire or not hire LGBT people.
However, many of the same LGBT groups that promoted ENDA with a religious exemption somewhat belatedly demanded a veto by Gov. Brewer of the "religious freedom" law in Arizona, and that looked hypocritical. Why allow employers not to hire people based on their religious beliefs but tell businesses it's wrong to turn people away based on their religious beliefs?
Not only does a vast majority of Americans support a law banning discrimination against LGBT people in employment, but the new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that a vast majority would also support a law banning discrimination in public accommodations -- without a religious exemption. That's pretty amazing. LGBT people have no federal protections -- no protections in employment, housing, credit, education or public accommodations -- and all we're pushing for is a narrow employment bill with religious exemptions, while the vast majority of Americans support full civil rights?
Sure, LGBT groups are operating within a political environment in which a small band of extremists have a lock on the GOP. But better to get nothing passed right now and continue to embarrass the GOP and watch it implode than to compromise our rights and pander to those extremists. Worse yet, passing ENDA with religious exemptions sets a dangerous precedent, as groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal have pointed out, by allowing the very discrimination that we so powerfully beat back in Arizona with the help of big business and people across America.
It's time to push for full equality at the federal level, with no religious exemptions, in employment, in housing, in credit and in public accommodations. It's what the American people support. And it's what we should demand no matter how long it takes.