KOKOMO – Members of Congress are frequently targeted for ridicule for what the electorate believes is unforgivable inertia. They are chastised for being cowards on a variety of issues. Many in Congress have learned how to avoid politically difficult votes by killing bills in committee or by inserting poisonous amendments into legislation to make passage impossible.  

The truth is that votes are the best way for the voting public to reconcile what is said on the stump during an election and what the officeholder truly believes. The very best politicians are so skilled at the Potomac two-step that they can have people with diametrically opposed beliefs think that their elected representative supports their position.

I knew a congressman once who received large contributions from both Jewish and Muslim supportive PACS. Now that is a real skill!

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, a vote will be scheduled that you can’t avoid. The day comes when you bow to the crowd or show leadership and legislative bravery. Recently, such a vote was taken in the United States Congress. The legislation in question was the Equality Act.

The Equality Act would amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal anti-discrimination law for the workplace, to clarify that discrimination based on sex would also include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislation would also ban discrimination based on these protected classes in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, housing, credit, and the jury system.

This legislation is another in a long cultural war that is being waged in nearly every state and in the halls of Congress and the courts on a daily basis. By now, we all know who the opponents are on both sides. Religious conservatives who believe that any protections extended to LGBTQ persons represents a loss are pitted against social liberals and moderates who believe that the Constitution and protection of basic rights should extend to everyone. It is a bloody war that promises to continue for a long, long time.

When the Freedom Act was voted on by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 17, every Democrat and only eight Republicans voted in favor of the legislation. Fortunately, one Hoosier representative, Susan Brooks, had the courage to vote in support of the Freedom Act. I’m sure that it was a difficult decision to cast a “yea” vote with the knowledge that a very vocal and hostile group of your constituents would be angry. All truly meaningful legislation, particularly instruments of social change, involve impassioned support and opposition. Congresswoman Brooks’ 5th District is no exception. Temperatures run red-hot on both sides of the issue.

In the final analysis, Congresswoman Susan Brooks cast her vote in line with her belief that fundamental rights should be extended to all Americans. I applaud her for her leadership and bravery.

Social media has not treated the congresswoman as kindly as I do. Brooks has been steadily skewered by religious conservatives for her perceived failure to protect religious rights. I learned long ago that religious conservatives view any changes to civil rights laws as a zero-sum game. Every change has a loser and a winner. There is never a win/win situation. Unfortunately, when you are a conservative of any type, change generally feels like a loss.  

All of the basic rights and freedoms that we hold dear today were the subject of vicious legislative battles for years before they were passed by Congress. Remember, we fought the Civil War over whether it was proper to own another person. We battled over whether to extend voting rights to black men. We marched, protested and rioted over women’s suffrage. We argued about whether it was just or not to allow children to work. It is only natural that we fight with each other on the subject of LGBTQ rights.

Let’s take a closer look at the Freedom Act: Should a business be allowed to discriminate against someone because they are gay? Should a hotel, motel or apartment dwelling be allowed to deny lodging or housing to someone who is gay or transgender? Should a bank or mortgage company be allowed to deny credit to someone who is gay or transgender? Should a person be denied an education solely on the grounds of sexual orientation? Should a person be kept from serving on a jury because of their LGBTQ status?

People, these are basic human rights we are talking about.

What do the polls tell us about the temperature of the American public on this issue? According to the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority of people in every state believe that these basic rights should be extended to include people of LGBTQ status. PRRI found majority support across all sorts of different groups. About 79% of Democrats, 70% of independents, and 56% of Republicans say they favor these laws. A majority in every age group, from millennials to the elderly, supports these laws. Even a majority of white evangelical Protestants, who are typically conservative on LGBTQ issues, support these measures, along with every other religious group tracked by PRRI. In Indiana, 65% support extension of basic civil rights to include LGBTQ.

The problem is that 80% of the noise surrounding the issue of LGBTQ rights is being made by 10% of the public. This noise and deep pockets of some of the loudest noise-makers has petrified some lawmakers into avoiding any contact with the toxic issue. Republican legislators on both a state and federal level try to avoid, at all costs, dealing with the issue and when forced to take a stand, generally take the path of least resistance.

This is why the supportive vote on the Freedom Act by 5th District Congresswoman Susan Brooks is so laudable. She demonstrated courage in the face of much vocal opposition, swam against the tide and cast a vote for what is right. The people of Indiana, regardless of whether you agree with her or not, should at least appreciate that she is not just another “vote the party line” representative.
 
History will show that Susan Brooks was an insightful civil rights leader. 

Dunn is the forrmer Howard County Republican chairman.