When President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday making it illegal for federal contractors to fire or harass employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, civil rights advocates hailed the move as one of the most important actions ever taken by a president to stem discrimination. Democratic lawmakers raced to issue statements celebrating the advancement for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.... But in Republican quarters on Capitol Hill, it's as if nothing happened. GOP leaders have been silent. Socially conservative members have gone quiet.
The Hill reports today that a growing number of Republican lobbyists on K Street -- home to many of Washington's largest lobbying firms -- are "helping members of their party shift their stance on gay rights issues." The piece specifically highlighted Kathryn Lehman, a top GOP lobbyist and partner at Holland & Knight, who sounded optimistic.
"The issue is losing its toxicity, from a Republican perspective," she said.
Is there anything to this? Maybe. Jennifer Bendery raised an interesting point the other day.
Republicans have invested an enormous amount of time and energy in condemning President Obama's executive actions, pretending every executive order is further evidence of an out-of-control dictator, hell-bent on tyranny.
But last week, after the president circumvented Congress and issued a sweeping new policy, GOP lawmakers bit their tongue.
Asked if he had any reaction to Obama's latest move, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "Nope. The president signs a lot of executive orders."
So what's going on here?
Over the course of the multi-decade "culture war," the right has regularly shuffled the hierarchy of issue priorities. The fundamental cause has remained largely unchanged, but social conservatives have been willing to swap competing issues -- abortion, gay rights, school prayer, pornography, etc. -- on and off their front-burner.
That said, Republicans at a national level may not emphasize an anti-gay agenda as much as they used to -- we haven't heard much talk lately, for example, about the party's goal of an anti-gay constitutional amendment -- but I'd caution against assuming the fight is over.
It's more dormant.
The fact that GOP lawmakers didn't freak out about Obama's latest executive order is evidence that Republicans don't see much of an upside to celebrating anti-gay workplace discrimination. But if the party had really evolved, the House would follow the Senate's lead and allow a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a move Boehner has refused to even consider.
To be sure, Republican culture warriors seem to be focusing less on gay rights lately and more on reproductive rights, with GOP officials principally concerned lately with opposition to contraception access and abortion. But so long as Rick Perry is running around equating homosexuality with alcoholism, it's safe to say the party hasn't changed that much.