November 7, 2013

It’s very big news that the Senate just passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act by a comfortable vote of 64-32. Not because it means ENDA will become law anytime soon; breaking House GOP opposition could take years. Rather it’s a reminder that the culture continues to evolve on gay rights with an inexorability that even the GOP-controlled House will not be able to resist for too much longer.

Yes, it may take years. But House Republicans will ultimately submit and pass a federal law barring discrimination in hiring decisions against gays, lesbians, and transgender Americans. Or they will lose their majority, and Democrats will pass it instead.

Just look at the vote in the Senate. Ten Republicans voted for ENDA. That is a record number of Senate Republicans supporting a gay rights bill – more than the eight that voted for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2010. The bad news is that fewer than one fourth of the Senate GOP caucus voting for gay rights constitutes a record. But let’s just emphasize that this shows clearly that things are moving in the right direction, even among Republicans.

To appreciate just how quickly that movement is happening right now, look at ENDA’s history. ENDA has its legislative roots in the gay rights movement in Manhattan in the early 1970s — some four decades ago. As you regulars know, I grew up on the far west side of Manhattan at that time, in what was basically a gay ghetto, when gay bashing was routine and the closet was king. It’s stunning to think back to that time, and compare it to the startlingly rapid progress of the current moment, and how long it took to gather the momentum we see today.

ENDA was first introduced in Congress around two decades ago, in the early 1990s, around the time that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was first passed into law.  It wasn’t until 2007 that protections for transgender Americans was added, and that year, it died in the Senate. DADT was still in force. But then DADT was repealed in 2010 after a brutal years-long fight. Obama became the first American president to come out for gay marriage. Polls showed the culture shifting rapidly, with majorities supporting marriage equality for the first time. The Supreme Court paved the way for marriage equality and probably put state laws banning gay marriage on the path to extinction. The arc is bending a lot faster than anyone thought possible.

And now, ENDA. What’s left standing in the way? The House GOP. But not for long. Even Republicans know time and demographics are wearing down what’s left of their opposition. As the RNC autopsy put it:

Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, this issue is a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be.

Here is Ari Fleischer, making a very good substantive case for ENDA and calling on House Republicans to recognize the inevitable and let it pass. Which they will, inevitably, do.

Another chapter was written today in the larger story. And as always, the credit really goes to ordinary LGBT Americans, and their relatives and friends, who continue to force us all to move in a better direction, year in and year out, insisting that the culture must, and will, recognize their basic humanity.

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