By Eugene Scott
President Trump won praise from some gay Americans for being the first Republican nominee to acknowledge gay Americans in his party acceptance speech.
While promising to be tough on terrorists in 2016, Trump said: “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. To protect us from terrorism, we need to focus on three things.”
But overall, the Republican Party has failed to win the support of LGBT Americans for years, in part because of its positions on same-sex marriage and related issues. And since Trump entered the White House, he has advocated many policies viewed as anti-LGBT.
The GOP’s lack of popularity with gay Americans was no exception in 2018. The “Rainbow Wave” saw a record-breaking number of LGBT Americans elected thanks to the support of Democrats.
But in his farewell speech on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a conservative Christian and Mormon, said that this does not have to be the case.
Hatch called on his party members to find some common ground toward advocating for the best interests of those who prioritize religious liberty and those who fight for LGBT rights.
Hatch said Wednesday:
“Nowhere is the pluralist approach more needed than in the fraught relationship between religious liberty and LGBTQ rights. . . . Religious liberty is a fundamental freedom. It deserves the very highest protection our country can provide. At the same time, it’s also important to an account of other interests as well — especially those of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Pluralism shows us a better way. It shows us that protecting religious liberty and preserving the rights of LGBTQ individuals are not mutually exclusive. I believe we can find substantial common ground on these issues that will enable us to both safeguards the ability of religious individuals to live their faith and protect LGBTQ individuals from invidious discrimination.”
Hatch pointed to the passage of the “Utah Compromise,” a bipartisan anti-discrimination law that he said strengthened religious freedom and protected LGBT Americans from discrimination, and argued that it could be replicated at the federal level and be a unifying piece of legislation that honors the diversity of Americans.
But it is not clear that the base of Hatch’s party is as interested in finding common ground between conservative Christians and LGBT Americans as the retiring lawmaker is.
The GOP has been home to white evangelicals since the election of President Ronald Reagan. And in addition to winning white evangelicals, Trump won the support of most white Protestant Christians and white Catholics. No group supports the GOP more than white evangelicals, as the 2018 midterm election exit polls showed. And no group is less supportive of same-sex marriage and the advancement of LGBT rights than white evangelicals, according to the Public Religion and Research Institute.
The number of Republicans overall who are sympathetic to the challenges gay Americans face — as Hatch noted, there is no federal legislation protecting Americans from discrimination based on sexual orientation — may not be significant enough to heed Hatch’s request.
But as acceptance of LGBT Americans becomes more prevalent — especially among millennials, the youngest generation of voters — the push to have Republicans, including conservative Christians, become more supportive of gay rights could pick up speed. The fact that the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history devoted part of his final address to the upper chamber to the issue could suggest that some older conservative lawmakers think the next generation of leaders could right the wrongs of their elders.