A story in this week’s American-Statesman has given me hope that the Republican Party will move to the left on gay marriage and LGBT rights – if not voluntarily because it’s the right thing to do, then by necessity to prevent alienating new voters Donald Trump is bringing to the GOP. Those voters care less about social issues and more about jobs.
The story is bad news for Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, who like Trump, is seeking the Republican presidential nomination along with John Kasich, governor of Ohio. The latter pair have no pathway to win the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. With 992 delegates Trump does. But he could lose if the nomination goes to a late ballot at a contested convention. Those circumstances boost Cruz’s chance to win.
But on gay rights, Cruz, who fervently opposes gay marriage, is being upstaged by Trump. By contrast, Trump has strategically positioned himself in support of gay rights. That is made clear in The Times story in which writer Maggie Haberman details Trump’s long support of gay rights issues.
Haberman wrote: “In 2000, when Trump briefly considered running for president, he gave an interview to The Advocate, a gay magazine, in which he supported amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ‘include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation.’ “
The interview quoted Trump as saying: “It would be simple. It would be straightforward,” adding, “It’s only fair.”
Recently, speaking on NBC’s Today Show, Trump said instead of trying to legislate which bathrooms LGBT people should use, North Carolina should “”leave it the way it is.”
“People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble.”
He later clarified that to say it should be up to states to determine such things.
Trump’s direct and implied support of gay rights has created a strong expectation for change in the GOP. That momentum is multiplied by pressure coming from big corporations, including Disney, which have blocked the enactment of legislation in Georgia and some other states for so-called religious liberty laws, which allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people.
In Texas, the group, Texas Competes, has organized to fight such discriminatory efforts at the Legislature, now controlled by right-wing GOP conservatives, who have made no secret of their opposition to gay marriage and legislation that would permit state agencies and public universities to offer domestic partnership benefits to their employees.
Such benefits, offered by the city of Austin, the Austin school district and many private companies, provide health coverage and other benefits to an employee’s same-sex or opposite-sex partner. During his tenure, University of Texas President Bill Powers, made clear that the state’s flagship university was at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting and retaining talent because of the Legislature’s failure to pass such a bill.
Thankfully, UT began offering benefits to same-sex spouses after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 upheld gay marriage as a constitutional right – even in Texas that had banned it — though UT still is legally unable to offer domestic partnership benefits to its employees.
Texas Competes makes a similarly solid case for creating a business climate in the state that welcomes LGBT people and counts over 700 corporations and organizations as members, including Google, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Dell, Marriott, Hilton, Whole Foods and Samsung.
That case is stated on its website: “Businesses have long recognized the power of fair treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers and their families. The positive impacts on company culture, and on the bottom line, are well documented. And those impacts go beyond gay and transgender employees: inclusive policies and culture are important to the vast majority of the population as a whole.”
Trump, a billionaire businessman, recognized the benefit of equal treatment years ago, according to Haberman, who wrote: “He donated to charities focused on the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early ’90s. In 2000, when he briefly considered running for president, he gave an interview to The Advocate, a gay magazine, in which he supported amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ‘include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation.’ “
Haberman also reported that Trump is believed to be the first private club owner in Palm Beach, Florida, to admit an openly gay couple to his club, Mar-a-Lago.
By contrast, Cruz is clinging to a religious conservative view that defines marriage as a sacrament between one man and one woman. But given the shifting ground in the GOP on gay rights and Trump’s influence in such matters, one has to wonder how long before the conservative views of Cruz and other like-minded Republicans will be overtaken by more moderate and welcoming views on gay rights.