Opinion

How Romney-Ryan can reach out to gay voters

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R. Clarke Cooper
Executive Director, Log Cabin Republicans
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      R. Clarke Cooper

      R. Clarke Cooper is executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. He is an army veteran of the Iraq War and an eight-year Bush administration appointee.

Congressman Paul Ryan is a strong choice for vice president, and his addition to the GOP ticket will help Republican candidates up and down the ballot. As chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the Republican “Path to Prosperity,” nobody is more qualified to articulate a conservative economic vision to restore the American economy and stimulate job creation. At the same time, Congressman Ryan’s 2007 vote in favor of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) — which would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against gay Americans — and his consistent willingness to engage with Log Cabin Republicans on a range of issues speaks to his record as a fair-minded policymaker.

Romney should take a page from his running mate’s playbook and support stronger workplace nondiscrimination laws. Polling shows Republican support for employment discrimination protections and same-sex marriage has been growing. This trend transcends age, race and political identification. To succeed on the campaign trail, Romney must recognize that people who believe in equality under the law agree that this principle extends to gays and lesbians. This message is acceptable to today’s conservatives and is necessary if the GOP wants to be able to compete for independents, women and younger voters.

Romney is not ready or willing to support same-sex marriage, but there are still concrete steps that his campaign can take to counter the liberal strategy of painting the GOP as anti-gay that would also provide tangible benefits for LGBT Americans. Before the president’s May announcement that he supports gay marriage, the main issue being pressed by LGBT advocates was actually workplace protections. As a candidate, Barack Obama vowed to sign an executive order adding LGBT people to the list of groups federal contractors are barred from discriminating against. The White House then made it clear that no executive order would be signed, leaving 1.8 million Americans unprotected. It is wrong that federal contractors who are paid with taxpayer money are allowed to fire people for being LGBT. Romney has said that he opposes workplace discrimination. By vowing to sign an executive order preventing federal contractors from firing people for being LGBT, and joining Paul Ryan in support for ENDA, Romney can draw a favorable contrast between himself and the president.

Today, 4.3 million LGBT Americans live in the 31 states without basic protections from workplace discrimination. In rural Texas (or the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Virginia), same-sex marriage is a beautiful dream, but especially in this job market, the fear of losing a paycheck for being gay or transgender is very real. By supporting ENDA and the federal contractor executive order, Romney and Ryan can turn the conversation about LGBT equality back to the economy. It’s a message that unites Americans, provides real benefits for millions of LGBT people and plays to the strengths of the Romney-Ryan ticket. Romney and Ryan both have records of supporting these protections, and for practicing nondiscrimination in their own leadership roles, so this step is entirely in line with the Romney-Ryan campaign’s “promise of equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.” Even for gay voters, the 2012 election is about restoring economic prosperity, growth and jobs.

R. Clarke Cooper is the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.