Commentary

Will enough Republican senators sign onto the Equality Act for it to pass? Probably not.

Asheville, North Carolina, USA - April 2, 2016: An activist holds a sign at a HB2 protest rally of a law that takes away the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Asheville, North Carolina, USA - April 2, 2016: An activist holds a sign at a HB2 protest rally of a law that takes away the rights of the LGBTQ community.Photo: Shutterstock

The warped norms of the US Senate require virtually any bill moving forward has to have at least 60 votes to prevent a filibuster. (The pandemic relief bill is an exception because it uses an equally funky process called reconciliation.)

That strange system means that the Equality Act requires Democrats to convince ten Republicans to join them in support of the bill. How hard can that be?

Related: Are LGBTQ people the last minority group you can legally discriminate against in America?

Democrats managed to do so in 2013, when the bill’s predecessor, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), passed the Senate, only to die in the House, which was controlled by Republicans at the time. But finding ten Republicans this time will be a lot more difficult.

Six of the ten Senators from the 2013 vote are no longer in Congress. Moreover, in the intervening years, the party has become even more right-wing. Conservative evangelicals hold an outsize influence as the party base.

Notably, two of the ENDA-supporting Senators are retiring.  Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who has a gay son, has been an intermittent supporter of LGBTQ rights, bucking the party on marriage equality and also confirming President Trump’s anti-LGBTQ judicial picks. The other retiree is Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is one of the other remaining Senators and seems a solid vote for the new measure. That leaves Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Collins won a close re-election fight last year, and she’s apparently bitter that HRC, which is the main LGBTQ group lobbying for the bill, supported her opponent. “Unfortunately the commitments that were made to me were not [given] last year,” she told the Washington Blade.

For whatever reason, Collins won’t co-sponsor the bill, a sign that she’s not behind it. She cited unspecified changes to the measure that she sought but that were rejected.

So who among the GOP is left, willing to face the wrath of the cultural warriors driving the party agenda? The Blade reached out to Marco Rubio of Florida and Joni Ernst of Iowa and got no response. Rubio in particular is not renowned for his willingness to put principle above self-interest. Rubio is probably not about to anger religious liberty advocates by supporting the measure.

Mitt Romney, who has emerged as the Republican’s voice of reason, has already said he won’t support the bill because it doesn’t adequately protect religious organizations. 

A non-discrimination measure passed in Utah in 2015 with exemptions for some organizations. The Equality Act amends existing federal nondiscrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity and does not carve out similar exemptions.

Would adding those exemptions to the Equality Act help it secure enough votes to pass? There’s reason to be skeptical. While it may shake loose a few votes, like Romney’s and Collins’, the party as a whole is so opposed to LGBTQ rights that getting even five more votes seems a huge uphill battle.

If anyone needs evidence of just how radical the GOP has become on the issue, they need only look at today’s action in the House.

The party’s most radical new member, Marjorie Taylor Greene, introduced a measure to adjourn to block a debate on the Equality Act and all GOP House members who voted did so in favor of it. Greene objects to transgender protections on the libelous claim that the measures are “protecting pedophiles.”

Perhaps the biggest irony here is that one of the two Senate Democrats most adamant about upholding the filibuster is the Senate’s only bisexual member: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Sinema refuses to go along with the rest of the party, going so far as to privately assure Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that she will block attempts to end it.  

In that sense, Sinema is trying to have it both ways. As a co-sponsor of the bill, she will be able to stand up in support of it. But by opposing the filibuster, she’s condemning it to certain death.

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