The state of North Carolina recently adopted one of the most pernicious anti-LGBT laws in the country, explicitly prohibiting cities and towns from adopting anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people and nullifying laws which have already been adopted. In its breadth of language the Republican-dominated state legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory opened the door to legal discrimination against African-Americans and Latinos, religious groups, women and the disabled.
The wild rush to invalidate an anti-discrimination ordinance adopted by the city of Charlotte opened a window into the hearts of 116 state legislators in Raleigh, and it was like staring into the abyss.
North Carolinian Republicans were understandably painted as cruel and uncaring, angry at the way humanity was moving forward without them and fearful of losing the crutch of misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia. Stuck in a bubble that no longer resembles America. A dark place where gay children are denied, queer neighbors are ridiculed and confusing inner feelings are deeply suppressed.
But the most shocking thing about conservative attacks on gay rights in North Carolina and the related statements of Republican presidential candidates is just how out of step the U.S. Republican Party has become with the rest of the democratic world. Right-wing parties from Britain to Israel, Sweden to Chile, have embraced LGBT equality as a core human right. Today there are more openly gay Members of Parliament from right-wing parties than there are from left-wing parties in the parliaments of the world.
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UK Prime Minister David Cameron fought for the legalization of gay marriage in 2013 by saying, “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.”
In the British general election of May 2015 LGBT candidates actually outperformed their straight colleagues – leading to the election of 36 openly LGBT MPs in the current House of Commons. Fourteen of those lesbian, gay or bisexual MPs are conservatives. An LGBT identifying candidate signaled to voters something positive: authenticity, empathy, courage and tenacity.
Right-wing parties may defend gay rights on principle, but they also recognize the electoral value of adopting positions increasingly shared by the electorate. Even in America, each new generation of Republican voters embraces gay rights in greater numbers. Over 60 percent of Republicans under 30 supported same sex marriage in 2014, and that number increases month by month. Indeed, a large majority of North Carolinians support anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT tar heels.
In 2016 conservatives around the world are embracing gay and transgender rights as a core part of their belief in individualism, liberty and the family as the foundation of society.
In an ideal world LGBT rights become a non-issue. Why would you discriminate against someone for whom they love?
LGBT rights become a non-issue when they become a nonpartisan issue. Polls tell us that is exactly what each new generation of Republican voters wants – so why do the party elders cling to bigotries which will hurt them at the ballot box in every coming election?
Professor Andrew Reynolds is director of the LGBTQ Representation and Rights Research Initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.