This week, Congress held hearings on a bill to make the District of Columbia a state. For Democrats, this measure has two primary benefits.
The first is based on principle. DC statehood would enfranchise 700,000 Americans who pay federal taxes but have no federal representation. That’s about as many people as the population of Alaska, and more than Wyoming and Vermont, all of whom have two Senators.
The second is based on politics. Adding DC as a state would add two more seats to the Senate. Given the overwhelmingly Democratic tilt of the district, that would virtually ensure two more Democrats joining the Senate.
DC statehood would also have a big benefit for LGBTQ residents. DC has the largest per capita LGBTQ population in the nation. Nearly 10 percent of the population is queer, according to an analysis by the Williams Institute. That means almost 70,000 LGBTQ people in DC don’t have federal representation.
Needless to say, Republicans oppose DC statehood. The party is desperate to hold onto a system that provides it with outsized benefits.
Because the Senate is apportioned solely on statehood, California, which has more than 60 times the population of Wyoming, has the same number of votes in the Senate as the tiny plains state.
In addition, Republicans have undertaken a concerted voter suppression effort. The racist implications of their efforts are hard to deny. Proposed measures in multiple states would have a disproportionate and intentional impact on Black voters.
Denying DC statehood would be right in line with those proposals. DC is 47 percent Black.
In an attempt to circumvent the obvious reasons for their opposition, Republicans at the DC statehood hearing cited a variety of outright laughable reasons for keeping DC residents disenfranchised.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) said that DC would be the only state that doesn’t have a car dealership. (It does.) Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) noted that DC doesn’t have any mining. The Heritage Foundation’s Zack Smith, whom Republicans invited to testify, said that DC residents “already impact the national debate” because members of Congress drive by their yard signs.
While denying LGBTQ residents the right to vote isn’t the primary focus for these individuals, it’s certainly in line with their anti-LGBTQ philosophy.
As a Congressional candidate, Hice claimed that gay people had “a secret plot to recruit and sodomize children.” Grothman complained that the Obama administration’s opposition to Uganda’s vicious anti-sodomy laws meant the US was sending “scientists to Africa to say how wonderful the homosexual lifestyle is” and would incur God’s judgment. The Heritage Foundation, where Smith works, is part of a coalition of groups trying to derail the Equality Act.
Of course, Republicans could try to secure a majority in Congress by convincing people to vote for them, instead of preventing people from voting at all. But that would require the party to change its views on many issues.
The GOP consistently opposes positions that are wildly popular with most Americans, including LGBTQ rights. They can do so with impunity because the system is stacked in their favor. Until that changes through expanded representation and voting rights the party will pay no price for standing in the way of policies that most Americans want.