by Ed Brayton
The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that adds sexual orientation to the list of reasons for not firing or refusing to hire someone, by a vote of 235 to 184. Surprisingly, the winning margin included three Michigan Republicans with strong records of voting against legislation that advances equality for gays and lesbians. Those three are Candace Miller, Thaddeus McCotter and Joseph Knollenberg (Oakland County- 9th District).
These votes are quite surprising given the previous track records of all three legislators on gay-rights issues. In the most recent Christian Coalition Congressional Scorecard from 2004, all three legislators received very high scores: Miller a 91, Knollenberg a 94 and McCotter a perfect 100. (The Christian Coalition supports conservative causes.) By contrast, the Human Rights Campaign, which supports LGBT rights, has scorecards for that same year that gave Miller a 0, Knollenberg a 22 and McCotter an 11. The Human Rights Campaign makes its ranking based solely on how a candidate votes on LGBT rights issues; the Christian Coalition has broader criteria, but LGBT rights issues are a large part of their ranking as well. Suffice to say that none of these legislators has ever been considered supporters of equality for the LGBT community.
Noel Siksai, president of the Michigan chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that supports LGBT rights, thinks those votes are explained by pure political calculation:
“I think it’s political self-preservation. Knollenberg’s district is being targeted by Democrats and last time he only won with 52 percent of the vote. I think he wants to hold on to that seat a while longer. And Miller and McCotter may be afraid of falling like dominoes if Knollenberg does. They’ve seen that Joe is targeted and they want to shore up their standing before it gets to them. The demographics in their districts are changing, so it’s safer for them to vote for it than against it.”
The political realities in Washington may also make this vote a safe one because the bill is very unlikely to become law any time soon. It faces a more difficult fight in the Senate and even if it passes there, Bush has vowed to veto the bill. Without the votes to override such a veto, it is virtually impossible for this bill to become law before 2009 at the earliest. That reality appears unlikely to appease the social conservative base in Michigan, as the votes were met with immediate denunciation by Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan.
“By voting with Barney Frank and homosexual activist groups, they ignored warnings by the White House, rejected the Republican Party platform, and thumbed their nose at the people of Michigan, who overwhelmingly voted to constitutionally protect marriage as only between one man and one woman.”
Glenn is calling for retribution on the three Republicans, but for highly inaccurate reasons.
“We urge Michigan families to hold Knollenberg, McCotter, and Miller accountable for helping Barney Frank pass legislation that would — for the first time in federal law — grant recognition to so-called homosexual ‘marriage’ and create special rights based on sexual behavior,” said Glenn in a press release after the vote.
This is a red herring since ENDA has absolutely nothing to do with same-sex marriage. It only prohibits job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The idea that the bill engenders “special rights” makes little sense. Whether such inaccurate rhetoric will have its intended effect remains to be seen, but Miller, Knollenberg and McCotter are not commenting. The Washington offices of all three legislators were contacted for comment; all three promised to call back with a statement and all three failed to do so.
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