American religious right leaders are fuming as the GOP drifts closer and closer to the acceptance of civil rights for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. The majority of Republicans now support same-sex marriage and a handful of gay men have been accepted into the fold.
Transgender rights, however, are the current target as Christian evangelicals shift their focus to meet the times – and Republican politicians are more than happy to follow.
According to polling released earlier this year, 51 percent of Republicans support marriage equality. That’s up from 47 percent in 2019. Other surveys have seen support as high as 55 percent.
The same poll found that 79 percent of Americans support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, including 62 percent of Republicans. Support was even higher among independents and Democrats. A majority of all racial and religious groups in the survey – including white evangelical Christians – support anti-discrimination protections.
The poll also asked participants if they believe that small businesses should be allowed to refuse to serve LGBTQ people for religious reasons, and 61 percent of respondents opposed religious exemptions.
Still, only 42 percent of Republicans opposed religious exemptions – a majority of independents and Democrats opposed them – which is an increase from 39 percent in 2019. White evangelical Protestants and Mormons were the religious groups most likely to support religious exemptions.
The polling sheds some light on the Republican strategy against the Equality Act, landmark civil rights legislation that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit anti-LGBTQ and sex discrimination. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill earlier this year, many Republican lawmakers said that they oppose anti-LGBTQ discrimination, before focusing on narrow aspects of the bill like transgender girls in school sports and religious exemptions.
While religious right leaders have castigated Republican leaders for everything from sending out a Pride tweet to appointing a gay man to a Cabinet position, their vitriol has mostly been ignored.
Former-Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell was appointed by former President Donald Trump, making him the first gay man to be appointed to a Cabinet-level position. While evangelicals had opposed the appointment, complaining that Grenell would “promote homosexuality,” Trump ignored their complaints, a stark difference from only a few years before.
Grenell was hired by the Romney presidential campaign to handle foreign policy messaging, but was forced to resign within days after an outcry from the religious right. During his campaign, Trump repeatedly declined to attack same-sex marriage and described himself as a “friend” of the community.
Trump, however, oversaw one of the most vicious attacks against LGBTQ civil rights of any President, largely absenting himself as evangelicals inside his government used every tool at their disposal to gut protections already in place. Trump infamously banned transgender people from the military with an arbitrary tweet, surprising the entire administration.
He also joined with evangelical leaders in still-ongoing attacks on transgender and nonbinary people, endorsing banning them from public facilities, sports teams, and from getting appropriate medical care.
Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden overturned the ban on trans people serving in the military and his administration has started rolling back all of the changes made by the Trump administration that were meant to undermine LGBTQ civil rights.