To the casual observer, it would seem that gay rights falls neatly on the political spectrum. Democrats champion bills that aim to protect LGBT people from discrimination, and Republicans increasingly propose and pass ones aimed to protect the religiously devout.
But there's growing evidence that Republicans in Congress and across the country are sidestepping the more controversial religious protection and bathroom bills and, in some cases, embracing LGBT non-discrimination laws instead. Some, like GOP Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), are even leading the way.
Ros-Lehtinen and her husband, a former U.S. attorney, recently launched a bilingual campaign to advocate specifically for transgender rights in honor of their transgender son, Rodrigo.
And more broadly, Republicans in Congress, Southern-state governors and a business community that usually aligns with the GOP seem to be eschewing some of the more controversial religious freedom and bathroom bills and the drama that often comes with it. And rather than citing a friend or family member who's gay or transgender, they're citing political reasons for stepping out of the debate. Here are four of the big ones:
1. Businesses aren't on board
When North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed his state's law restricting what public bathrooms transgender people can use, his opponent seized not on McCrory's alleged affront to LGBT rights, but instead opted for a different attack: McCrory is bad for business.
McCrory tried to point out that businesses can make their own bathroom policy. But it was in vain. An overwhelmingly large section of the business community had already decided that bathroom bills are bad for their public image. PayPal backed out of an expansion in Charlotte. The NCAA threatened to cancel its tournaments in the college basketball-crazy state. Conventions backed out. Big banks and airlines with business in the state opposed the law. McCrory's opponent, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, picked up his biggest lead yet shortly after.
A similar fate befell Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) when he signed his state's religious freedom bill in 2015. A nonpartisan report determined the state's biggest city, Indianapolis, lost $60 million in economic investment in the aftermath.
Today, Pence and McCrory are on The Fix's list of top five governor's seats most likely to flip parties, in no small part thanks to their support for this kind of legislation.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) took a different direction when he vetoed a religious freedom bill in March after enormous big-business pressure; the National Football league suggested it would pass over Atlanta for future Super Bowls, and Hollywood stars threatened to stop filming in the state.
His veto was a huge victory for LGBT rights advocates during an otherwise tough year. And Deal was careful to echo their arguments in his veto, indicating to the business community he was on their side: "I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia."
That's pretty telling.
2. The party's current LGBT position isn't winning them any new constituents
The problem with many of these religious freedom and bathroom bills, Dent told The Fix, is that they leave their supporters open to accusations they support discrimination.
"I think that was a mistake they made in Indiana," Dent said. "They passed a religious freedom law, but they did not provide any protections in the law for LGBT people." (Pence later revised the law to add one in, but the damage had largely been done.)
A drama that erupted on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday suggests enough Republicans might be amenable to just such an argument.
On Thursday, a Democratic amendment to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to contractors that don't have LGBT discrimination regulations almost passed in one of the most conservative House chambers in modern history. Twenty-nine Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, and it would have passed if, at the last minute, roughly six GOP lawmakers hadn't switched their votes. Political finger-pointing ensued, with Democrats and LGBT advocates accusing Republicans of "shamefully … writing discrimination into federal law."
Dent, who led a charge earlier in the week on a similar amendment, said his party made a mistake by not going on the record in favor of non-discrimination laws. It's just where the country is headed, he said.
"The country is evolving demographically and socially on issues like this," he said in a Thursday interview, "and I suspect that the debate over the last few days is a reflection of that."
Plus, with the right compromise, it doesn't mean Republicans have to abandon their evangelical base and religious protections either, Dent argued. Take Massachusetts, where the Democratic legislature is moving to explicitly affirm transgender rights. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has indicated he'd be open to signing it.
3. Stepping into bathrooms and businesses is big government
Another argument you hear LGBT advocates make is that Republicans are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist -- particularly on bills that prevent transgender people from using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
"I've been using the women's bathroom for 20 years without a problem," Mara Keisling, a transgender woman and director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told reporters Monday.
As he watched a bathroom bill wind its way through the Republican-dominated legislature this year, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) echoed Keisling's comments when he wondered whether government really needs to get involved in something that doesn't seem like a pressing problem.
"Personally, I am not hearing about problems out in the districts,” Haslam told reporters in April. “ ...I'm not hearing parents say we have problem in our schools today.”
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) said as much in a statement this March when he became the first governor to veto a bathroom bill. He argued the legislation wasn't consistent with small government principles: "This bill seeks to impose statewide standards on every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school."
4. The bills are more drama than they're worth
"We know as soon as this bill passes, we're going to be sued." Tennessee state Rep. Susan Lynn (R) said that in April as she pulled her bathroom bill from the legislature to tweak it to stand up to an imminent lawsuit.
And she's probably right. There's a lawsuit raging in North Carolina, and the Obama administration has threatened to take away federal funding for public schools that don't accommodate transgender students.
Lynn says she'll try again next legislature. But higher-profile Republicans like Donald Trump and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) have all indicated these bills aren't worth the kind of economic, legal and political strife that tend to come with them.
"I don’t believe it’s necessary," Haley said. "…Like it or not, South Carolina is doing really well when it comes to respect and when it comes to kindness and when it comes to acceptance. For people to imply it’s not -- I beg to differ.”
And here's what Trump told CNN recently (before clarifying that he thinks bathrooms should be a state issue): "There has been so little trouble, and the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment that they're taking."
Add it all up, and you get four very real political reasons for Republicans to drop their association with some of the more controversial religious protection and bathroom laws and to embrace LGBT rights instead. Many of these Republicans already are.