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While many in the media are focusing on the budget and fiscal views of Mitt Romney's pick as vice president for the Republican ticket, Paul Ryan is much more than just "wonky budget guy." In fact, Ryan's extreme social conservatism, which he prefers to hide under his fiscal views, is a perfect example of the state of today's GOP, which has been taken over by far-right ideologues who distract with tax and deficit talk as they seek to march civil rights back to the Dark Ages.
Yes, the Paul Ryan budget is extremely newsworthy for its uneven tax breaks for the richest Americans while gutting social safety nets like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, but Ryan"s record on social issues and civil rights, specifically LGBT issues and women's rights, should not be glossed over by the media or by voters as November approaches. Despite the odd praise coming from conservative gay groups like Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud, Paul Ryan's record on LGBT rights is abysmal and far out of step with mainstream Americans.
Like most of the current Republicans in office, Ryan claims to want small federal government and strict constitutional reading... except when it doesn't fit their narrow social agenda. Paul Ryan has voted twice, both in 2004 and 2006, for an amendment to the federal constitution banning marriage between same-sex couples, a position presidential hopeful Mitt Romney also holds. In fact, Ryan bragged about his vote to amend the constitution in 2004 in a press release, saying, "I had hoped that this amendment wouldn't be necessary, but increasingly it appears that laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act will not be sufficient to protect marriage from certain courts that distort state and federal constitutional law."
Ryan's anti-equality crusade against recognition for LGBT couples hasn't been slowed down by the passing years and increased societal acceptance. In 2011 Ryan supported adding a constitutional amendment in Wisconsin's state constitution to ban marriage equality. And as recently as May of this year, Ryan voted for a bill that would prevent the Department of Justice from arguing against the constitutionality of the odious Defense of Marriage Act and has supported the move by House Republicans to spend millions of taxpayer dollars defending the bill against legal challenges.
But it isn't just marriage equality that Ryan opposes. His social extremism goes further: He opposes both domestic partner registries and adoption by gay or lesbian couples. In Congressman Ryan's first year in the house, 1999, he voted to ban gays and lesbians in Washington, D.C. from adopting children and opposed implementing a domestic partnership registry in the District.
Beyond just relationship and basic family rights for gays and lesbians, Ryan has also taken extreme stances on widely accepted basic civil rights for the LGBT community. Twice in recent years, in 2007 and 2009, Paul Ryan voted against bills adding sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes laws, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Protection Act, which President Obama signed into law. Ryan once again joined the majority of his party in trying to block progress for the LGBT community in 2010, when he voted against the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." In 2001 Ryan also voted to exempt faith-based initiatives from state and local government's civil rights laws in an effort to circumvent LGBT nondiscrimination protections, one of the only minority civil rights categories not covered by federal law that would trump the state and local laws.
In fact, according to the Human Rights Campaign's congressional scorecard, which rates politicians on their votes and stances on LGBT issues, Paul Ryan received a score of 0 (out of 100) for his positions on pro-LGBT legislation in the 111th Congress. In fact, for the prior five HRC scorecards, Congressman Ryan received four 0s and one rating of 10 in 2007.
Despite this long record of anti-equality votes, conservative gay groups are trying to muddy the waters of Ryan's record by citing a single vote he cast in 2007 that earned him that measly score of 10. To be clear, Paul Ryan was one of 35 Republicans to vote for a watered-down version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that year, which only protected against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, not gender identity or expression. What groups like the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud fail to mention, however, is that he joined 26 other GOP ENDA supporters to try to kill the very bill they later voted in favor of, with a parliamentary procedure known as a motion to recommit. So he wanted to shelve and kill an already weak bill before he voted for it, hardly a laudable and brave stance on LGBT rights for gay Republicans to crow about. One would think that such groups would take a moment to reflect on praising a choice like Ryan when extreme right-wing groups like the Concerned Women for America, Faith and Freedom Coalition, and the Family Research Council are also lauding Ryan's hyperconservatism on social issues.
And in a sign that Paul Ryan has no qualms about flexing his anti-gay muscles during the campaign to those extreme groups, he has agreed to address the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center deems a hate group, at the organization's annual Value Voters Summit in September.
Add to those longheld votes and stances Paul Ryan's horrible history on women's rights -- like co-sponsoring a "personhood" amendment that would ban birth control and some in-vitro fertilization; supporting a ban on all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest; comparing Roe v. Wade to the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision; and supporting defunding Planned Parenthood -- and you have the perfect poster boy for the current Republican Party.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, like the GOP legislators in power in Congress and states across this country, claim to be all about the economy and jobs, yet their actions speak of a different agenda to push our country's social progress back decades by attacking women's rights, LGBT people, and the social safety net that are part of the very fabric of our country. So as we move to the election, let's demand that the conversation around this election not just be lip service to either party's desired daily talking points but a real investigation and discussion about the actions and positions taken by the candidates. We must remind the media there is a lot more to people like Paul Ryan than wonky budget talk and P90X workouts; there is a history of extremism that is out of step with American values and ideals.