I’ve just received a brief message from Sen. Mark Pryor’s office. It’s big news. Said a note from Michael Teague of his staff:
He’ll vote yes on ENDA.
This is big news. ENDA is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It prevents discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Pryor, with West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, was one of only two Democrats who had not said they would vote for the legislation, which has had a long and difficult history in Congress. It was approved in the House in 2007 but stymied by Senate filibusters. Gay rights groups think they now have enough Democrat and Republican votes to beat a Senate filibuster and Sen. Harry Reid announced this week that he intended to bring the measure to a vote. Passage in the Republican controlled House remains unlikely.
As I’ve noted in a column written for this week’s paper, the belief in Arkansas runs deep that no politican can harm himself by voting against equality for gay people — be it in adoption, marriage, employment or any other consideration. Many Republicans resisted anti-bullying legislation because they thought it an abridgement of religious freedom to be unable to afflict gay children with their condemnation.
Teague said there’d be no further elaboration for the time being. Republicans in Arkansas are certain to pounce, even though the recent Arkansas Poll by the University of Arkansa found 80 percent of “very likely” voters thought gay people should be treated equally in the workplace. Republicans such as Sen. John Boozman hide their enmity to gay rights behind a claim that the law could prompt lawsuits. Of course. Civil rights laws need to have means of enforcement — whether the discrimination is on account of race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation. Truth is, many Republicans don’t like the other protections either.
I’ve asked Pryor’s likely 2014 Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, several times for his most current thinking on ENDA. I’ve had no response. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act along with many Republicans, however, because of protections it offered to transgender people. He opposes same-sex marriage, of course.
Mark Pryor has made a tough call and the right call. Elections ARE about choices.