Evangelicals or moderates? LGBTQ ruling may force GOP to choose.

The Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBTQ employees from job discrimination met high praise from Democrats and silence from key Republicans who are caught between evangelicals and suburban voters.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Supporters of LGBTQ rights hold placards in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 8, 2019. A June 15, 2020 court ruling protects LGBTQ people from job discrimination. Democrats laud the landmark ruling, while the GOP stays largely silent.

Democrats flooded Twitter and email inboxes this week with praise for the watershed Supreme Court decision shielding gay, lesbian, and transgender people from job discrimination. Republicans – not so much.

The court's 6-3 ruling came just two days after an event that played out in the opposite direction. Freshman GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman, who’d officiated at a same-sex wedding, lost his party’s nomination in a conservative Virginia district.

The two developments underscored an election-year challenge facing the GOP: how to reconcile broad national support for LGBTQ protections, even among many Republicans, with fervent opposition from some of the party's die-hard conservative voters.

On Election Day, that question will be easily overshadowed by the moribund economy, the coronavirus pandemic, the interaction between race and violent police tactics, and by President Donald Trump himself. Still, the week's events point to a culture-war schism in the GOP that Democrats are happy to exploit, even as Republicans struggle to prevent moderate suburban voters from deserting them.

“This is something suburban voters support,” said GOP pollster Glen Bolger. “And that is a group that Republicans are having challenges with.”

Polling illustrates the GOP's dilemma.

In a December survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 62% of Americans overall said they backed banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people in workplaces, housing, and schools.

That included around 3 in 4 Democrats and nearly half of Republicans. That's a turnaround from more negative feelings people had two decades ago.

“Wake up, my Republican friends, the times, they are a-changing,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday.

Yet just 33% of white evangelical Protestants said they supported prohibiting broad LGBTQ discrimination. In a September 2019 survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, 61% of Americans said making same-sex marriage legal was good for society while 72% of white evangelical Protestants said it was bad.

Those voters are a crucial GOP bloc, especially in rural districts, and party leaders cross them at their own peril. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Constitution ensures a right for same-sex couples to marry.

“It’s decided law” but some Republicans are using same-sex marriage as a “divisive political tool,” said Jerri Ann Henry, who resigned last year as executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, which represents LGBTQ members of the party.

Ms. Henry, a GOP strategist, said the battle over the issue is “the exact thing that will further alienate suburban and independent voters.”

Within hours of Monday's Supreme Court ruling, Democratic lawmakers unleashed a flood of statements hailing it. GOP reaction was harder to find, with top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., mum.

Notably, praise came from two moderate GOP senators, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins.

“All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream,” tweeted Ms. Collins, a four-term senator in her toughest reelection race. She called the decision “a major advancement for LGBTQ rights.”

Ms. Collins’ likely Democratic opponent, Sara Gideon, tweeted that the decision showed Ms. Collins “will continue to be a reliable vote for Trump’s anti-LGBTQ+ nominees.” Ms. Gideon's focus was Ms. Collins' pivotal 2018 vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, which Democrats consider a major vulnerability for Ms. Collins. Mr. Kavanaugh voted against this week’s court ruling.

Other Republicans were less receptive to the court's decision.

Carrie Severino, president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, suggested the ruling would motivate conservative voters eager to ensure that Congress, not courts, control the law.

“The Supreme Court is always a hugely important issue to conservatives,” Ms. Severino said Tuesday.

If the court’s ruling wasn’t painful enough for Republicans, the opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, Mr. Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee. Trump administration lawyers had argued on the side of employers who opposed lifting the discrimination ban.

Mr. Trump has voiced support for LGBTQ rights and appointed openly gay Richard Grenell to be acting director of national intelligence, though he’s since been replaced.

But Mr. Trump has also appointed numerous federal judges who opposed LGBTQ rights and rolled back federal protections for transgender people. And the GOP has embraced its 2016 party platform anew for this year’s campaign, a document that “condemns the Supreme Court’s lawless ruling” that legalized same-sex marriage.

“Donald Trump has racked up some firsts, and that sets the tone in the Republican Party,” said Charles Moran, managing director of Log Cabin Republicans. But he added, “There are definitely battles we still need to fight in some heartland areas” of the country.

Mr. Riggleman learned that firsthand last weekend. His short-circuited attempt to be renominated to Congress demonstrated that while religious conservatives have gotten more attention lately for opposing abortion, battling same-sex marriage resonates for many.

A member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, Mr. Riggleman was endorsed by Mr. Trump and evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.

But he was defeated Saturday at a GOP nominating convention in rural Virginia that, amid the pandemic, was conducted by delegates who voted by driving up to a church near his opponent's home. It was the only polling location in a district that sprawls from northern Virginia to the North Carolina border.

Mr. Riggleman officiated at a wedding last summer of two of his male friends and campaign aides. He said that during Saturday's voting, a constituent asked him to repent for conducting that wedding. He said he responded he had nothing to repent for.

Mr. Riggleman said younger Republicans and those who've served in the military like himself don’t see gay marriage as an issue. He said if the GOP wants religious liberties protected, it must embrace civil liberties, too.

“If we can’t get over how other people live, I think the Republican Party is dead in Virginia,” Mr. Riggleman said. And he voiced no regrets for officiating at the wedding.

“I wouldn’t change a damn thing," he said.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writers Emily Swanson in Washington; Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia; and Elana Schor in New York contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: As a public service, the Monitor has removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Evangelicals or moderates? LGBTQ ruling may force GOP to choose.
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today