Would a vote for a gay-rights bill hurt GOP senators?

November 4, 2013

Updated 9:52 a.m.

Gay rights haven't been a major topic of discussion on Capitol Hill since Congress voted to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in late 2010.

But a proposed federal ban on workplace discrimination against gay men, lesbians and transgender people is set to dominate the Senate calendar this week as debate begins on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The Senate this week will debate the first major gay rights legislation since Congress voted to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” in late 2010. Congressional reporter Ed O'Keefe tells us what to watch for in the discussion surrounding the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. (The Washington Post)

 

Supporters appeared to earn just enough backing for the measure Monday morning, when Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) became at least the 60th senator to announce his support -- just enough votes needed to help the bill clear Senate procedural hurdles.

But supporters are hoping to easily top 60 votes, and the campaign remains focused on at least three other Republican senators -- Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Patrick Toomey (Pa.). All three joined the Senate in 2011 after Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell." Heller, who has also been the focus of intense lobbying for ENDA, voted against the ban when he was serving in the House in 2010.

Supporters of the measure and the groups pushing for passage -- the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, CREDO Mobile and MoveOn.org, among others -- have spent millions of dollars rallying supporters in states represented by potential GOP "yes" votes. They're also touting academic research, including a study from the University of California at Berkeley that suggests that gay workers who conceal their sexual identity are prone to be less productive than other colleagues.

But the study most relevant to Fix readers -- and to Ayotte, Heller, Portman, Toomey and other Republicans --  explores potential political consequences for Republican lawmakers who might support ENDA.

The study by the HRC looked at the 21 states and the District of Columbia that have passed laws prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and the 17 states and D.C. that also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Of the 451 Republican lawmakers in those states who voted for the bills, 375 were eligible to run for reelection and 342 won their races, according to the study.

In Ayotte's state of New Hampshire, 94 Republican state lawmakers supported the state’s 1997 bill that banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Ninety-four percent of those Republicans won reelection, the study said. The numbers were worse in Heller's Nevada, where just 50 percent of the Republicans who voted for a law banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation won reelection. Pennsylvania and Ohio do not have laws similar to ENDA.

Other issues likely influenced each lawmakers' political fate and the HRC study is clearly designed to make a point. But can you think of any GOP legislators who have lost reelection in recent years because they supported gay rights?

Supporters and top Senate aides hope that at least one of the three Republican senators they're closely watching will vote to at least begin debating ENDA and maybe also for final passage. None of the senators are expected to signal their intentions until around the time debate formally begins as soon as Monday afternoon.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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Chris Cillizza · November 4, 2013