August 7, 2015 at 5:26 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
White House downplays GOP hopefuls’ power on LGBT rights
Josh Earnest, White House, Barack Obama Administration, press, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican presidential candidates may have threatened to undermine LGBT rights during the night of the first GOP debate, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest cautioned Friday against placing too much weight on their ability to make good on undoing progress seen under the Obama administration.

In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Earnest said whether any of the 17 candidates — who uniformly oppose same-sex marriage — can in fact reverse LGBT advancements is a “hard thing to say” because many of the advancements stem from increased public support.

“I think that so much of the progress that has been made is progress that a substantial number of Americans have come around to supporting,” Earnest said. “I think that speaks to not just the critically important political progress that’s been made in this country on some of the issues that you just cited, but in some ways, I think you could make a pretty persuasive argument that at least as important as that is the social progress that’s been made in communities large and small across the country in which discussions of these issues are taking place outside the context any sort of political election or partisan debate.”

Earnest acknowledged some progress wouldn’t have been possible “without some political leadership and that’s why the president is justifiably proud of his record,” but attributed progress ultimately to the public.

“The real power behind this change in the views of so many Americans as we perfect our union is the power of the American people, and the significant change that we’ve seen in a relatively short period of time,” Earnest said.

On Thursday, three candidates — former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — pledged to take unilateral action on behalf of religious liberty as president, which is seen as code for enabling anti-LGBT discrimination. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee objected to the Pentagon’s plan for implementing openly transgender service.

Many candidates pledged to undo Obama’s executive actions they say were acting as job killers, which in their minds may include his order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination.

When the Blade pointed out the president’s executive actions like this order and asked if they’d be in danger under a Republican presidency, Earnest affirmed some change resulted from “political leadership, including political leadership by the President of the United States.”

“And there’s no doubt that we would have liked to have seen Congress take some of the steps that the president has been forced to take on his own to try to make our country a little more just and a little bit more fair, but Congress has resisted,” Earnest added.

In the end, Earnest said LGBT rights supporters would be able to discern the candidate’s positions and make appropriate judgment when they go to the polls on Election Day in 2016.

“Those voters who prioritize these issues I’m confident will look carefully at the views and records of those who are running for president because there’s no denying the kind of authority that they could wield sitting in the Oval Office on these issues,” Earnest said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • What do you expect them to say?

    • They should face reality and stop giving people a false sense of security. Our rights are never secure as long as we have enemies dedicated to reversing and denying them.

      It’s especially alarming that our GLBT youth take our achievements for granted and that many organizations are now disbanding following the SCOTUS ruling. It’s obviously not over and likely never will be anymore than the fight for abortion rights is over.

      African Americans had the sense to keep the NAACP. You have to have dedicated people to preserve as well as expand our rights and be a voice for our community before the federal government and state level. Simply thinking being GLBT is America doesn’t matter anymore and trying to fade into the mainstream is foolish.

      • I think the dissolution of American advocacy groups focused upon marriage equality legislation and litigation was inevitable. And I don’t think it surprises many.

        There are a sufficient number of LGBT-rights advocacy groups– well established and well-heeled– equally capable of absorbing AFER’s, Freedom To Marry’s and others’ efforts and resources into their own.

        But I take your point, too, that none of us should feel sanguine about our hard-won rights in law, to date, until…
        (1) federal legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Title 7 –AND–
        (2) specific legislation(s) to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and financial services
        …is secured in both federal and state laws.

        re. Title VII…

        • Even if we meet your (1) and (2), there will always be people trying to undermine those achievements by seeking innovative ways to try and gut them or water them down. The composition of the SCOTUS is important as a conservative tilt can lead to rights being threatened as they were by the recent rulings on the Voting Rights Act.

          All the gains under title VII are under threat if Congress is allowed to amend the law for GLBT. That is the fear of many groups. Once it’s open, a lot of amendments could be added to change things already protected by law. It’s likely nothing that activists want done with a GOP majority in Congress.

          Probably the only way to be sure would be to have our rights specified and guaranteed under the US constitution but that too, amending the US constitution is dangerous as it gives our enemies a chance to try and define marriage as between a man and a woman.

  • You’re stupid if not naïve to think that conservatives that oppose GLBT advances under the law cannot be a threat to undermine those achievements. We constantly see attempts on the Federal and state level to codify discrimination and undermine any rights we have achieved under the law or through the SCOTUS rulings and prevent us from expanding them.

    Just like social conservatives come up with endless bills and laws to undermine abortion rights despite the 1973 Roe V. Wade SCOTUS ruling affirming a right to abortion, you will see the same when it comes to marriage equality and by extension any laws that ban discrimination against GLBT Americans.

    We did not win marriage equality by popular vote like they did in Ireland. Don’t get cocky over it. It was a narrow SCOTUS ruling. Despite growing support for it, our enemies will be galvanized to try and reverse it and the majority really will not go out of their way to do much about it one way or the other. While a majority may be supportive of our equality most people are not committed enough to go out of their way to do much about it if it doesn’t impact them directly or they are not passionate about the issue.

    Social conservatives will be fighting marriage equality just like abortion rights. They don’t care what’s legal now or what history will think of them. So stop taking your hard earned rights for granted and keep vigilant. Becoming complacent is what will lose you those hard earned rights!

    • Different than abortion. There have been no protests here like there were in France, etc. Abortion protests still work because they’re protesting an imagined other in a woman’s womb. Marriage equality is about real couples on TV screens and down the street. Protests against them won’t fly and will just look mean to the general public.

      Vigilance is important, but this won’t play out the same as abortion. The facts are different, it’s a different generation, and we have the internet and technology helping us to know real LGBT people, how they live, and how much they are like us – the American public.

      • Just because there have not been protests yet like the annual march in Washington against abortion, doesn’t mean there will not be. It’s been only a short while since we received the SCOTUS decision. Planning massive marches isn’t so simple. I doubt social conservatives care at all what the general public thinks. The general public after all supports abortion rights.
        The marches in France likely were organized in advance so that so many people could attend. They didn’t work in France either. You should read social conservative websites to see their take on the issue. They haven’t given up.

        The Marriage equality decision was narrow compared to the Roe V. Wade one. There are many people still against marriage equality. We didn’t win the right by popular vote like in Ireland. If it was over, you wouldn’t have social conservatives pushing religious freedom laws, constitutional amendments or the like. It’s too soon to know how things will pan out but they may get a lot uglier before they get better.

        You assume because we have the law behind us that that immediately changes homophobic attitudes. People are supportive of gay people with the caveat that what we do in the privacy of our own homes is our business. With marriage equality, gay couples are being visible. Many have a visceral disgust to two men kissing each other in public. I’ve read as much on the internet. Just like racism is still here despite public acceptance and changes in the laws, homophobia doesn’t simply end like you think.

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