Editorial: An obvious next step on the road to justice
Given the sickening paralysis in Washington these days over the federal budget, the debt ceiling and the Affordable Care Act, it’s easy to decry American politics and government as hopelessly broken. That’s why we were particularly heartened to see a sign of real political hope last week. From Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey of Concord came a calm, rational suggestion for social progress. His proposal, which would help nudge his party into the 21st century, brought a few “right-ons” from readers and no hysterical backlash, no jeers of derision, no State House picketing.
What a remarkable change in just a few years.
Duprey’s proposal, published in a Monitor column on Friday, is that the Congress, including Republicans, approve the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, currently pending in the Senate. The bill would expand federal workplace protections for religion, race and disability to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. As Duprey noted, the legislation would protect workers from being discriminated against simply because of who they are or how they are perceived.
“As a businessman, a Republican, and a citizen of this great republic, I believe everyone has the right to work hard and be judged by the work they do,” Duprey wrote. “This is a bedrock American and New Hampshire principle and one that has fueled our economy for generations. If you turn on the news it’s difficult not to see examples in countries like Russia and Iran, where basic human rights are not only not protected, but are actively trampled upon.”
Similarly, a New Hampshire college Republican organization has called on New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte to support the legislation, hoping that she will help lead the charge to help their party appeal to younger voters.
At a time when social acceptance of gay rights and gay marriage by ordinary Americans, lawmakers and the judiciary seems to be moving with breathtaking speed, the fact that such a law does not already exist seems strange indeed. Duprey noted that New Hampshire has had comparable state legislation for more than a decade.
Comparable, it turns out, but not identical.
New Hampshire’s nondiscrimination statute protects gays and lesbians but does not include transgender individuals. State House watchers will remember a particularly ugly fight over a 2009 attempt to fix the law by inserting a specific protection against discrimination based on gender identity.
Led by then-Republican Party Chairman John H. Sununu, the GOP mounted a hateful campaign against what members called “the bathroom bill,” ridiculing the legislation and whipping up fears that it would lead to sexual predators lurking in women’s bathrooms. Sununu called the bill “garbage.” Proponents of nondiscrimination were tarred as somehow un-serious about jobs and the economy. And while it passed the Democratic-led House, it was killed in the Senate.
Duprey’s sound column about the federal nondiscrimination bill is a reminder of that still unfinished chapter in New Hampshire’s steady march to social justice. Is it possible that here in 2013, lawmakers could take a deep breath, reconsider the 2009 legislation with some maturity and common sense and pass it into law?
In hyper-partisan times, equal rights for all can surely be a vision that federal and state lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, can embrace.