The repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy” has boosted the spirits of gay-rights activists, but it is not expected to bolster the rest of their legislative agenda, which likely will hit roadblocks in the 112th Congress.
Lobbyists for gay-rights organizations say that next year they will focus on unfinished business including employment nondiscrimination legislation, providing domestic partnership benefits to federal workers and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.
But they are not optimistic that Republican leaders in the House will push through their issues.
“I don’t think they will go negative on us. I just think they will not do anything to bring about positive change,” said Fred Sainz, the vice president for communications and marketing for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay-rights organization.
Some of the activists’ priorities, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, have been lingering for years. The House passed a version of ENDA in 2007, but a revised measure that included protections for transgendered people did not make it out of committee this year.
Sainz said his group will focus more on executive branch agencies to pursue equality issues for gay people as well as lobbying at the state level for passage of laws allowing gay marriage. Outside the legislative arena, HRC is pushing more companies to enact gay-friendly policies, such as domestic partner benefits.
R. Clarke Cooper, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said GOPers have made it clear they will focus more on fiscal rather than social issues next year.
But he added that Republicans may be receptive to legislation that deals with taxes, such as extending tax breaks on health benefits for partners of employees.
Cooper cited as progress the fact that many Republicans have become more comfortable with having gay advocates in their midst, noting that his group participated in the Young Guns events spearheaded by GOP House leaders during the 2010 midterm campaigns.
Cooper also said he has met several times with Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio), including having his first conversation with the leader at a fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club.
“He said, ‘Not everyone can be a Susan Collins or Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,’” said Cooper, referring to two socially moderate Republicans, the Maine Senator and Florida House Member, who voted for the repeal.
Cooper said Log Cabin agreed to help raise money and work on behalf of certain Republican candidates. In return, Cooper said, he asked that Republican leaders convey to social conservatives in the party that “if they had nothing nice to say about gays and lesbians that they say nothing at all.”
And a number of conservative Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), surprised gay activists in their support of the DADT repeal.
The Log Cabin Republicans had also successfully sued in federal court in California to overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Cooper said that his group would likely wait to drop the suit until after the Pentagon completes its implementation of the new policy, which could take months.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.