The ancient Romans mastered the art of appeasing a restless populace through spectacle. With the president's announcement regarding marriage, Americans are seeing panem et circenses, "bread and circuses," in action, when what we really need are jobs.
To be clear, President Barack Obama's support for the freedom to marry is a landmark in the long march to equality. Log Cabin Republicans have long believed that supporting the freedom to marry is the right thing to do, and the president's joining this effort is in the nation's best interest. That said, Americans can be certain that the President would not have made this decision at this time if it were not in his best political interests. In addition to energizing the liberal base and distracting attention from a failed economic record, the trap has been laid for any Republican who responds with intolerance.
By rejecting not only marriage but civil unions and allowing senior campaign advisor Ed Gillespie to resurrect the twice-failed Federal Marriage Amendment, Governor Mitt Romney has taken the bait. This is a mistake. Both rank-and-file Republicans and senior strategists are recognizing that in today's political climate, anti-gay politics is not the powerful wedge issue it once was, and now the wedge cuts both ways.
In a memo by Jan van Lohuizen, President George W. Bush's pollster for his 2004 reelection, the GOP strategist is explicit in his guidance to Republicans: Support for same-sex marriage has been growing at an accelerated rate, with no sign of slowing down. This trend transcends age, race, and political identification. To succeed on the campaign trail, Romney must recognize that people who believe in equality under the law agree that this principle extends to gay and lesbian couples. This is about making sure that everyone enjoys the same protections against discrimination. This message is acceptable to today's conservatives and is necessary if the GOP wants to be able to compete for independents, women, and younger voters.
Clearly, Romney is not ready or willing to support the freedom to marry. There are still concrete steps that his campaign can take to counter the liberal strategy of painting the GOP as anti-gay that would also provide tangible benefits for LGBT Americans. Before the president's announcement inundated the headlines, the main issue being pressed by LGBT advocates was actually workplace protections. As a candidate, Obama vowed to sign an executive order adding LGBT people to the list of categories federal contractors may not discriminate against. The White House then made it clear last month that no executive order would be signed, leaving 1.8 million Americans unprotected. It is wrong that federal contractors paid with federal tax dollars are still allowed to fire people for being LGBT. Romney has said that he opposes workplace discrimination. In today's economic climate, taking this stand would contrast favorably with the president's purely symbolic gesture on marriage.
Until Congress repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the president's stance on the issue has little real value. Long before DOMA repeal reaches any president's desk, LGBT Americans have the chance to finally pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which our community has spent decades fighting for, and which enjoys strong bipartisan support. While Hollywood showers Obama with donations, Log Cabin Republicans have not forgotten the Waffle House waitress in Meridian, Miss. or the state trooper in Pennsylvania who contacted us after "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed to remind us that they could still be fired just because of who they are.
Today, 4.3 million LGBT Americans live in the 31 states without basic protections from workplace discrimination. In rural Texas (or the swing states of Florida, Ohio, or Pennsylvania) same-sex marriage is a beautiful dream, but especially in this job market, the fear of losing a paycheck for being gay or transgender is very real. By showing support for ENDA and the federal contractor executive order, Romney can counter the president's "bread and circuses" distraction and turn the conversation about LGBT equality back to the economy. It's a message that unites Americans, provides real benefits for millions of LGBT people, and plays to Romney's strengths as a candidate. Romney has a record of supporting these protections, and for practicing nondiscrimination in his own leadership roles, so this step is entirely in line with the governor's own evolution. Even for gay voters, in 2012 it's still about the economy. We're not stupid; stop the distractions and put the spotlight back on jobs.