By their actions today, Democrats and Republicans both made clear that they agree on something significant: Gay rights are currently a winning issue for Democrats and a losing one for the GOP.
So winning, in fact, that as the Senate approached a Thursday vote on workplace protections for gay and transgender workers, Majority Leader Harry Reid asserted that the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was going to have to “capitulate, if they have any hope” of nominating “a viable candidate” for president or “want to hang onto the House.”
Apparently, the GOP firebrands agree. When it came time for Senate Republicans to voice their objections to the bill before the procedural vote Monday: crickets. No “Green Eggs and Ham” from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. No showboating by the usual suspects. None of them wanted to take the floor against an anti-discrimination law that nearly 70 percent of Americans support and 90 percent believe already exists.
On the House side, an aide for Speaker John Boehner strenuously objected when the Huffington Post reported Monday that Boehner’s stated opposition to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) dealt “a blow” to the bill’s chances of reaching the president’s desk.
"We have always believed this is covered by existing law," the aide told Huffington Post, refuting the notion that Boehner’s position strayed from anything he had said in the past. “It's a longstanding position, and, frankly, not 'news' at all.”
Now that’s an aide who doesn’t want headlines. And he doesn’t want headlines because he doesn’t want attention brought to the fact that Speaker Boehner now stands in the way of passing the legislation. Why so scared?
Partly because the bill’s got so much popular support that, following the government shutdown, Boehner’s desperate to avoid whipping up another wave of public pressure.
And partly because Washington has finally caught on to the fact that being pro-LGBT isn’t just about winning over gay voters and donors, it’s about winning the youth vote. Simply put: supporting equality for LGBT Americans has now become a basic question of modernity — a litmus test of sorts — for millennial voters.
Even New York Sen. Chuck Schumer — who declined to include same-sex couples in immigration reform earlier this year for fear that they would tank the bill — was bullish on the optics of the employment nondiscrimination bill.
“The times they are a-changing,” Schumer told Politico, earlier this week. “If you want to alienate young voters, opposing this is a good way to do it. And they know that.”
And Democrats weren’t about to let Boehner off the hook as they addressed reporters Thursday just before the final vote on ENDA, which sailed through 64-32.
Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa called on Boehner to bring the bill to the floor, saying, “I’m convinced, if the House votes on this, it will pass the House and go to the president for his signature.”
An impassioned Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said it was "unconscionable that when given an opportunity to right one of these last remaining civil rights issues of our time, Speaker Boehner and those who follow his lead in the House of Representatives are turning their backs.”
Schumer piled on: “Everyone talks about gridlock in Washington, it rests with one man: Speaker Boehner.”
Yes, gay rights have officially become a wedge issue — that Democrats leverage against Republicans.