American Unity and the Republican push for ENDA

american unityThe lifespans of American Unity Fund (501(c)(4)) and American Unity PAC can be counted in months.  And yet, in the roughly 20 months since their founding, the groups have notched victories ranging from the passage of marriage-equality in eight more states to the reelection of pro-equality Republican candidates in the U.S. House.  Perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this blog, American Unity has changed (in part) the tenor of the Republican conversation on gay rights and marriage.  (See, e.g., this Washington Post story).  American Unity has done this not by seeking headlines, but by quietly showing pro-equality Republican officials and candidates that they are not alone — they have support both from Republican voters and Republican donors.  Much of this money has come from the groups’ founder, hedge fund billionaire, and long-time Republican donor Paul Singer.  (New York Times).

The groups have already poured millions of dollars into local gay marriage campaigns and the campaigns of pro-equality Republican candidates.  The Fund will continue to play a role in state-level marriage campaigns, and the PAC plans to play a big part in the 2014 federal midterm elections.  In the time before elections hit full stride, the Fund has turned its attention to the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).  ENDA protects Americans in the workplace from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity — essentially expanding Title VII (but not done within Title VII) to these two, currently unprotected by federal law, classes.  ENDA has been proposed in some variation since 1974, but has always come short of passing both houses.

On November 7, 2013, the U.S. Senate approved ENDA by a vote of 64 to 32 with the support of 10 Republicans (Ayotte, Collins, Flake, Hatch, Heller, Kirk, McCain, Murkowski, Portman, and Toomey).  This number — 10 — exceeded expectations, and American Unity certainly deserves some of the credit (or blame, depending which side you’re on).  Getting the bill past the U.S. House will be even more difficult.  But that is now the challenge that American Unity faces: convincing House Republicans that now is the time to pass ENDA.

USA Today recently ran a feature on the Republican push for ENDA, and the important role American Unity plays within that movement.  Jeff Cook-McCormac (JCMC), Senior Advisor to American Unity Fund, spoke with USA Today about ENDA, and he has kindly agreed to elaborate on American Unity’s efforts for the Purple Elephant blog.

…..

PE:  Thanks Jeff for speaking with us — exciting times for pro-equality Republicans!  Earlier this month it seemed like every time I opened up the newspaper a new state had embraced marriage equality.  I know American Unity has played a role in some of these state efforts, particularly with respect to convincing Republican state representatives.  What’s the elevator pitch for those Republicans?

JCMC:  The case we’ve been making to Republican legislators is pretty simple – the freedom to marry is consistent with the conservative values of limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty and stronger families; gay and lesbian couples are motivated to participate in the institution of marriage because they seek to love, care for and commit to each other; and it is wrong for government to discriminate against and restrict the freedom to marry of its own taxpaying citizens. 

PE:   Turning to ENDA.  In the spirit of the upcoming Passover season (April): “Why is this year different from all others?”  ENDA has failed to pass Congress almost every year since 1974.  Why is this year different?  Is this bill significantly from past versions?

JCMC:  ENDA has been around a long time, but this is the first time that lessons from the state-by-state marriage movement have been applied at the federal level.  The successful 2011 campaign to win marriage in New York reshaped much of the approach advocates of LGBT freedom pursue toward their legislative objectives.  In terms of the messaging employed, the talent recruited, the effective collaboration among groups and the authentically bipartisan strategy implemented, this campaign is unlike anything that has previously been seen on the federal level.  As a result, ENDA passed the Senate by a 2-1 margin.

PE:  With respect to House Republicans, is there anything in this bill that sweetens the deal for them?

JCMC:  If Republican legislators directly reflected the views of their Republican constituents, a decisive majority of the House GOP Conference would vote for ENDA.  Clear majorities of Republicans have backed ENDA, and done so for many years.  Our message is actually rather easy to deliver – and one Republican members need to hear – not only do their districts generally support ENDA, their Republican primary voters do as well. 

PE:  What are some of the main reservations Republicans have with ENDA?

JCMC: There are several questions we hear most often – (1) will this open the door to frivolous lawsuits? (no – 21 states already have laws like this), (2) will religious freedom be protected? (yes, and controversially, even more so than other characteristics), and (3) can I do the right thing and live to tell the tale? (of course you can! The real question is can you do the wrong thing and win reelection…?)

PE:  This recent poll suggests that a majority of Republican voters support ENDA.  Why is support among Republican representatives so much lower?  Even a successful Senate pitch only yielded 10 Republicans.

JCMC: This is exactly why it is so critical that credible center-right messengers take the case to legislators.  Many Republican legislators still do not understand how much Americans have moved on this issue, and how much they overwhelmingly dislike discrimination. 

PE:  The USA Today article says your coalition is targeting 48 House Republicans.  How many do you need to pick up?

JCMC:  There are currently just short of 200 publicly committed votes for ENDA.  We need to get that number north of 218. 

PE:  What’s an easy way for readers to help the push to get Republicans to pass ENDA?

JCMC:  Talk to your legislators, talk to your friends to talk to your legislators and talk to your families to talk to your legislators.  Personal one-on-one contact is most effective.  As we learned in New York, Republican legislative leaders are capable of advancing freedom for gay and lesbian Americans, but we have to engage them thoughtfully and respectfully, meet them where they are in their journeys, and help them take the step toward greater freedom and opportunity for all of us.

PE:  Thanks very much for your time Jeff.  Good luck with your efforts!  And keep us posted!

Disclosure:  PE co-founder Stephen Richer formerly served on the American Unity Fund board of directors.

This post is part of a series of Q&As PE plans to do with leaders in the pro-equality Republican movement.  The next post (in a few days), will feature Gregory T. Angelo of the Log Cabin Republicans

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