It's been a rainbow-banner year for the LGBTQ community. Federal marriage benefits became a reality. The Boy Scouts instituted a "don't ask or tell unless you really want to" policy. New Jersey and California banned sex-conversion therapy. Pennsylvania's attorney general donned a star-spangled bustier, called herself "Wonder Lawyer" and zapped herself onto the state Supreme Court just in time to declare that Pennsylvania's version of DOMA was unconstitutional. And, right before making Barbara Buono look like a toreador in front of a raging bull, Chris Christie gave up the fight to preserve traditional marriage in his state. Pretty impressive.
At a personal level, I've learned to use the correct acronym for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and "questioning." Given the fact that up until recently I used the word "homosexual" to describe the whole tribe, this is progress.
The tribe would probably not see it that way. Given my criticism of the whole gay-marriage juggernaut, that's understandable. But, although it's true that I'm far to the right on the philosophical Kinsey Scale, it might surprise some that this conservative was happy to see a particular piece of legislation wend its way closer to ratification this week. And I'm not the only one.
ENDA, another of those trendy acronyms, stands for "Employment Non-Discrimination Act." It's a piece of legislation that's been circulating the corridors of power for well over a decade, and the prospects for passage before the end of this year look more promising than they have in a long while. According to the Human Rights Campaign website, "ENDA would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."
The measure passed this week in the Senate, 64-32, thanks in part to some high-profile conservatives who have shown sympathy for the cause. The House is another story, although the prospects for ENDA there are a heck of a lot rosier than for some other controversial initiatives (hint ... Santa, all I want for Christmas is some immigration reform.)
The reason that conservatives are generally more receptive to ENDA than they are to same-sex marriage is because protecting someone from abusive behavior cuts to the heart of what it means to be human. Contrary to popular belief, at least one strand of a conservative's double helix looks vaguely human. Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest political humanitarians of our time, caring more about the plight of the enslaved and embittered citizens in the communist grip than many of his predecessors (including the great Franklin Roosevelt.) And don't get me started on Pope John Paul the Great.
The fact that we generally don't understand how you can squeeze a civil right to same-sex marriage out of the equal-protection clause doesn't mean that we want to see the LGBTQ community in a ring with the lions. It means that we have a problem with conjuring rights that don't exist by engaging in social-science hocus-pocus. I understand that some of the opposition to gay marriage also derives from bigotry toward other minorities, but the vast majority of us who think same-sex marriage is a hoax do so for jurisprudential reasons.
One of the Facebook fellows who unfriended me years ago but still has time to stalk me on other people's pages made it clear that the only way a lawyer could oppose same-sex marriage is if he or she went to an inferior school. A Penn grad, he expected that I'd swoon at his superior grasp of contract law. I just blocked him before hitting the floor.
And then I started to prepare for the asylum case I have in which an immigrant lesbian is seeking refuge because she was raped in her native, Muslim country.
I tend to look at ENDA in the same way that I look at our asylum law: a way to protect the unprotected. Allowing employers to target someone because of their inherent sexual characteristics is, simply, wrong. A lot of conservatives see that.
Liberals think we don't, and want to make sure that the rest of the country gets the same message. It helps them to paint us as mean-spirited bigots who hate the underdog on Election Day.
We're not. There is a lot more to protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community than letting them walk down the aisle and throw a bouquet. ENDA addresses some significant problems suffered by sexual minorities, and it deserves passage as long as we can protect the rights of religious conscience. While the law currently exempts groups that fall under the protections of Title VII, anyone who thinks that's enough just needs to look at the hell storm caused by the contraceptive mandate. Conservatives have a right to demand that a person's faith be given exactly the same amount of respect as a person's sexual orientation.
After all, we have enough room in our hearts for everyone.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Christine M. Flowers