November 5, 2013

So the Senate is expected to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Is there any chance it will pass the House? Not in the near term. Now that the GOP leadership has come out against it, there are two likely ways it could pass: Either through a discharge petition (which isn’t going to happen) or by attaching an amendment to a Defense Authorization bill. A GOP aide tells me the latter will get killed in committee.

So now what?

Gay rights advocates are bracing for another long hard struggle to break the House GOP leadership’s opposition to ending gay workplace discrimination, similar to the one that it took to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

I’m told advocates are eying a strategy that will involve recruiting gay victims of workplace discrimination in the districts of individual House Republicans, spotlighting their stories, and getting them to lobby their lawmakers. This is similar to the campaign to humanize victims of DADT — service-members who served under threat of losing their jobs, or who actually did get kicked out of the military — which was a major part of the DADT repeal campaign.

The idea is that the war over gay rights is in one key respect not like other ongoing political battles. While immigration reform is probably dead in today’s GOP-controlled House, because far too few Republicans reside in districts with large Latino populations, the insulation of GOP lawmakers in politically homogenous districts does not mean the same thing when it comes to gays – because more and more Americans are personally acquainted with, or related to, gay people.

“There are LGBT people in every single Congressional district across America,” Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, tells me. “We are the children of Republicans and Democrats. We are equally represented in every socio-demographic group. We’re everywhere, and a part of every community.”

Indeed, this may help explain the rapid evolution of the culture on gay rights. A big Pew study earlier this year found that majorities support gay marriage and believe legal recognition of it is inevitable, even as the percentage who personally know a gay person had soared up to 87 percent.

But however much pressure is exerted on individual GOP lawmakers, and however many support ending gay workplace discrimination, the GOP leadership decides whether ENDA gets a vote. DADT repeal happened when Dems held the House vote while they still had the majority during the 2010 lame duck session.

“In the effort to repeal DADT, the gay rights movement very effectively humanized the real impact discrimination was having,” prominent gay advocate Richard Socarides tells me. “Some of that can be replicated here. But it will take a long time. Individual Republicans might be convinced, but do you think the House GOP leadership is going to hold a historic vote in favor of gay rights? Very unlikely.”

Indeed, there’s no telling whether the House GOP leadership will ever get around to heeding the RNC autopsy’s call for evolution on gay rights to make the party more attractive to young voters, or whether enough individual GOP lawmakers will ever care sufficiently about the issue to seriously pressure the leadership.

A long time, indeed.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.