It went under the radar probably because it was so predictable, but U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last week, which passed the Senate on a 64-32 vote.
The act, known as ENDA, would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against people because of their sexual or gender orientation. It’s a much-needed and well-supported law that protects people. The measure now goes to the House, but it’s quite probable that Republican leaders won’t even allow a vote on the issue.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn didn’t vote on the measure because he’s getting treatment for prostate cancer, but we can presume he would have also voted against it. In 2004, he bizarrely claimed ” . . . lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they’ll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that’s happened to us?” How could anyone think that story was true?
Oklahoma, as we all know, is not one of the gay friendliest states in the nation, at least in terms of its law prohibiting same sex marriage and the archaic, sometimes bizarre positions of some of its conservative politicians. But it has become difficult to believe as the years go by that even the most anti-gay politicians, such as Inhofe or, say, state Rep. Sally Kern, don’t realize how extreme their positions seem to people outside Oklahoma or how out of touch they are with younger people.
All this raises the question of whether politicians here can continue to win votes based on anti-gay rhetoric. Gov. Mary Fallin, for example, has recently rather publicly and dramatically refused to allow the state to process military benefits for same-sex couples legally married in other states, but will such over discriminatory stances continue to win votes here in the years ahead? I don’t think so. Fallin, Inhofe, Coburn and Kern are on the wrong side of history.
Even Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett once used his opposition to same-sex marriage as a major campaign platform for a political race. Does he regret taking that position now? Is he going to use that position again in his mayoral reelection campaign?
There’s no mistaking that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community has become more socially accepted in our culture over the last two decades or so. Same sex marriage, for example, is now legal in 14 states and Washington, D.C. The Illinois Legislature just passed a bill legalizing same sex marriage and the governor there is expected to sign it soon. There remain obstacles to full equality, true, and that’s why there’s a need for bills like ENDA, but it’s obvious the national trend is towards more acceptance and tolerance, not less. Surely, even people like Fallin and Inhofe know that.
Here’s Inhofe’s somewhat bland statement about his ENDA vote:
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act infringes on a matter best left to the states. Existing laws across the nation already provide protection for unjust workplace discrimination. This legislation only exposes employers to excessive, costly litigation for the statue’s vague requirements on employers. What Congress should be focusing on right now is our stagnant economy and that starts by getting the federal government out of the way so businesses can competitively grow and innovate.
Note the states’ rights reference, always the default GOP position, and the claims about the potential for litigation, which is simply dancing around the issue and holds no meaning. Let’s don’t forget that Inhofe said on the Senate floor in 2006: “I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.” That’s simply a terrible thing to say. It’s a hateful remark that demeans not only gay people but also anyone who has ever been married and then divorced. Yet Inhofe’s recent statement on ENDA carries none of the loaded language he used before about gay people.
The Senate’s somewhat bipartisan vote to pass ENDA shows again how much Inhofe remains an uncompromising ideologue. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen over the year, the Republican leadership in the House is just as uncompromising, and ENDA may not even get a vote, which it deserves.