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Mark McKinnon: The GOP Hasn’t Learned Its Lesson on Equality

4 minute read
Mark McKinnon is a political advisor and the co-host of Showtime’s The Circus.

If you thought last year’s historic Supreme Court decision extending the freedom to marry to all same-sex couples would close the chapter on our nation’s dialogue about equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans – boy, were you wrong. Not just because in 33 states there are still no comprehensive nondiscrimination protections in place; but because Republicans across the country seem to be defying common sense (to say nothing of public opinion) by pushing laws that plainly single out LGBT people for unequal treatment under our laws.

North Carolina is this year’s Indiana, and every day there are new headlines about jobs and investments the state just won’t get because of Governor Pat McCrory’s baffling commitment to HB 2. Today, the Justice Department announced that HB 2 is a federal civil rights violation.

But not every Republican governor is following McCrory’s playbook. Earlier this year, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed HB 757 amid much-publicized concerns from the business and sporting communities. Leaders from those industries rightfully worried that the bill, which would have essentially allowed any business or organization in the Peach State to refuse services to LGBT people, would be devastating to Georgia’s economy.

In vetoing the anti-LGBT bill, Governor Deal didn’t just do the right thing—he did the conservative thing.

So many of the anti-LGBT bills we’ve seen this year are predicated upon false threats – the idea that our religious freedoms are somehow under attack and require special protections under the law (they’re already strongly protected), or the idea that allowing transgender people the basic dignity of using restrooms that match their gender identity somehow imperils women and children (it’s actually transgender people who are most at risk for harassment).

These bills represent government overreach, plain and simple. I’m proud to believe in more freedom and less government. Bills seeking to regulate who businesses can and cannot serve and what bathrooms people must use run contrary to those fundamental conservative principles.

Governor Deal hit the nail on the head when, in announcing his veto, he said: “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia…Our actions on HB 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business-friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. This is about the character of our State and the character of its people.”

The contrasts between Nathan Deal and Pat McCrory are illustrative of a GOP at a turning point on LGBT equality – again. Today, 61 percent of Republicans nationwide support LGBT nondiscrimination protections. The direction of the Republican party on LGBT equality – to say nothing of the direction of the country – is clear.

Governor Deal protected his state’s economy from harm and prioritized above all else the opportunity for everyone in Georgia to get a good job, work hard and earn a respectable living. More importantly, he rightly rejected the notion that there was some sort of conflict between religion and equality, and that religion somehow required special protections under the law.

Most importantly, Governor Deal reminded all of us that nondiscrimination protections align with conservative values. Because everyone should have the freedom to work hard and be judged on their talent and merits – nothing more, nothing less.

Governor McCrory, on the other hand, is a reminder of a time gone by, both for our party and our country. His insistence on embracing outdated and offensive ideas that extend the reach of government and treat some people differently than others under the law is causing real harm not just to his state, but to the people who call North Carolina home.

It’s time for a reckoning within the GOP when it comes to LGBT equality: We must embrace equality and push for nondiscrimination protections not just because it seems to be the politically correct thing to do. We should do it because it’s a genuine reflection of our values, and an opportunity to lead.

Mark McKinnon has served as a political advisor to President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, Bono and others. He is the co-founder of No Labels and the co-creator and co-host of Showtime’s The Circus.

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