Alex Blaze

Let's ENDA bipartisanship

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 09, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: anti-discrimination, Barack Obama, bipartisanship, civil rights legislation, Democrats, economic recovery, employment discrimination, employment protections, ENDA, lesbian, LGBT, Republicans, Senate, tax, transgender

Bipartisanship and centrism are back in the news as Obama's attempts to engage in a great compromise with Republicans on the economic recovery bill have fallen flat. He tried to include Republicans in good faith and that will likely make the upcoming depression longer and more painful, while centrists in the Senate have cut out the most useful programs from the bill in favor of more "middle class" tax cuts... you know, the poor people in the middle class who only have 6-figure incomes.

Well, it's important for LGBT folks to remember that centrism and bipartisanship do us no good either. When one side thinks that we're full and equal human beings deserving of the same rights, autonomy, and opportunities as everyone else and the other side thinks we're hell-bound perverts out to rape children and destroy Western civilization, there really isn't much space to find a compromise in which everyone wins.

But that doesn't mean that there isn't a certain type of political consultant who's tried to split that baby. "The Third Way," a think tank focused on finding solutions that make no one happy and that stunt liberal solutions by pretending the right has something to offer in terms of good-faith skepticism or ideas, has position papers on just about everything, including this one on ENDA:

Section 2: Define ENDA as Common Ground

[Centrists on gay issues] don't want their concerns dismissed, so supporters must show that these concerns were heard and addressed. That means talking about this legislation in terms of a common ground solution that took account of all sides.

It is fair for employers, because it takes the lead of America's most successful businesses. It is significant, in our view, that the business lobby does not oppose this legislation even though the legislation targets companies. This demonstrates that many in business realize that most employers are already ahead of Washington when it comes to equal employment opportunity. And ENDA is careful not to create, or imply, any rights for gays and lesbians that every other employee doesn't already have.

In addition, by including a specific exemption for religion that respects the freedom of religious communities to follow their own beliefs, lawmakers have listened to the concerns of people of faith. This legislation exempts faith-based employers who may feel that the hiring of gays and lesbians violates religious doctrine. Moreover, it upholds the moral and religious ideal of respecting the human dignity of all people. Thus, supporters can reject what groups like the Traditional Values Coalition say about the legislation.

When put into perspective, this moves the so-called center over to the far right. Let's consider a few things.

First, the ENDA is already very, very compromised. It doesn't deal with housing or public accommodation discrimination. It has a huge exemption, acknowledged by The Third Way, for religious organizations. Not just for churches determining who gets to be a member of clergy, which was a right they have that's never been threatened by any anti-discrimination legislation, but also to discriminate in anything they own, like charities, hospitals, schools, and other large institutions that employ many people and often receive federal and state funds.

Second, nowhere are transgender protections mentioned. That was supposed to be a half-a-loaf compromise to get wingers on board, even though cutting out an entire group of people would never be a half-a-loaf for that group of people.

Third, the TVC is defined as a mainstream right-wing organization, and nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, supporters can reject what they say, but they could have already - the TVC is a batshit insane group of fundies who represent nothing more than the most conservative sliver of Americans. Denouncing their ideology requires about as much courage as disagreeing publicly with Osama bin Laden would.

Fourth, this statement posits that people actually care whether the bill is "fair to business." The point of anti-discrimination legislation is to take away a freedom from businesses, that to fire based on their prejudice. It will always work against their interests, which is why passing a gender identity inclusive hate crimes law was much easier than a gender identity inclusive ENDA - Congress is much more comfortable with throwing people in prison than letting people sue businesses for discrimination. But the implication remains: if big business likes it, then it's the center.

Fifth, 90% of Americans support employment protections based on sexual orientation, a number the Third Way acknowledged in a separate memo. And about 2/3 of Americans support those protections based on gender identity. So, like, um, a full, loophole-free, all-inclusive ENDA is the center's preferred policy. Only a tiny minority of Americans feel that all the loopholes supported by the Third Way are necessary, and it makes no mathematical sense to put the "center" of American politics in a place between 10% and 90% of Americans.

Sixth, non-discrimination is the compromise position. It inherently favors no one. When a company can't discriminate based on sexual orientation, that doesn't mean that gays get ahead - it means that we will, hopefully, have the same opportunities. Sure, the enforcement mechanism for this sort of legislation is ineffective right now, but taken on-face, a perfectly-enforced, fully-inclusive, loophole-free ENDA is about as fair and unbiased as policy can get. Anything less is giving certain groups more opportunity than others.

But that's not what centrism and bipartisanship and "changing the tone in Washington" are all about. They're not about finding what's at the center of the Americans body politic. They're not about finding what works for the most people. And they're definitely not about actually making the best policy. These amorphous ideas are generally deployed to give more power and credence to conservatives than they actually deserve.

The Third Way's position on the ENDA is just one example of how the calls for false centrism screw us over. So while half the people on the teevee are calling for Democrats to make more concessions to bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship, we need to be watching how it turns out and preparing ourselves for the false compromises on our rights that will eventually be called for.

ENDA will come up this next year in Congress, and it will be great if it passes. But when it's being debated there will be lots of calls for all sorts of compromises on it that will turn the bill that's already an eighth-of-a-loaf into just crumbs. Then almost no Republicans will vote for it, they'll have destroyed the bill, and we'll be left with only the feeling of victory and an even harder time getting something else passed in the future, because, jeez, we've already received our special rights.


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steve tabarez | February 9, 2009 2:26 PM

I AGREE ALEX. There are just some things that the herd of post-partisan, principled pragmatists need to realize: there are just things that can't be parsed, parted or parceled out. And non-discrimination iis one of those things. In a, the areas you cited above. As for businesses, it has more to do with a true capitalist feeling of IT'S MY MONEY, AND BUSINESS, AND NO ONE CAN TELL ME WHAT DO WITH IT. Simply put. COST PROHIBITIVE, and UNFAIRLY BURDENSOME, or GOVERNMENT INTRUSION IN THE FREE MARKET, are just the slogans they use to ensure they keep that sense of entitlement.

"When one side thinks that we're full and equal human beings deserving of the same rights, autonomy, and opportunities as everyone else..."

Um, which "side" would that be, Alex? The side whose President opposed same-sex marriage based in large part on his religious beliefs? The "side" whose President has back-tracked on repeal of DADT (despite his "side" having control of both houses of Congress?) The "side" whose previous President (Clinton) enacted DADT, and signed into law DOMA? Is that the "side" we should all be so breathlessly supportive of and aligned with?

One further thought- why doesn't Bilerico at least have the courage of it's convcitons and engage in some truth-in-advertising? It is a daily experiment in advocating for the left-wing of the Democratic Party, trying to brainwash LGBT folks into believing that the entire "progressive" agenda is one we should- indeed, must- support, while also engaging in as much anti-conservative, anti-GOP, anti-Right rhetroic as they are often accused of fosting upon us. Be honest, folks- admit your political bias.

The "sides" I was referring to in the part you quoted were "LGBTQ community and allies" vs. "homophobes, transphobes, fundies and other assorted bigots."

Yeah, the Democrats are perfect. In fact, this post was about the main reason they're not - they compromise themselves too easily.

As for your last paragraph, thanks, I haven't heard a good whine today. Yeah, it must be hard to be a conservative Republican, what with your ideology being completely disproven over the last 8 years. One of the worst things that can happen when you have a fundamentalist ideology is to see it enacted, because they have a way of not working like they're supposed to.

As for brainwashing LGBT folks, I have more faith in their intelligence than you do, so I'm not worried about them buying into what I say without critically examining it. There's nothing wrong with expressing what I think, and if folks agree, then they do. If they don't, they don't. But you're not going to silence me with some sort of "You have to present the conservative side of the argument in order to make your side" line of reasoning that ultimately makes no sense.

And I've been honest about my political bias from the start - I'm left-of-center. I'm sure if you ask any of the other contributors here they'll be honest with you about where they're coming from as well. Sorry, you didn't just unravel a huge conspiracy against you.

If there is to be a discussion about compromise in a law that grants protection for civil rights I strongly believe we ought to be using specific inclusion for the GLBT community within Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. I for one would love to see the current ENDA scrapped and rewritten to simply say that the word "sex" in Title VII is meant to include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Of course this would make numerous right wing heads explode but that's just acceptable collateral damage as far as I'm concerned.

If we wish to argue that marriage, not civil unions, are our right then we need to argue for all of the other rights that straight and cisgender people have. "Settling" for less just plays into the bigot's hands.

Cyst-gendered? You can get cysts on your gender?