While Republican politicians — and, even more so, voters — have made progress on LGBTQ issues, the Grand Old Party is still mired in a regressive attachment to anti-gay bigotry, even in liberal California.
Republican voters nationwide have generally grown more tolerant of LGBTQ issues. In 2021, for the first time, a majority of Republicans polled by Gallup (55%) said they support same-sex marriage
This year saw a number of LGBTQ civil rights bills reach the governor’s desk in Sacramento. Yet Republican legislators opposed almost all of them.
These bills updated language in state code and laws, and added gender-neutral terms or options to government documents, student records and even death certificates. One bill would require major retailers to stop sorting toys into “boys” and “girls” sections. They weren’t life-or-death bills, but they granted more recognition and representation to trans and gender-non-conforming Californians.
Fifteen of the Assembly’s 19 Republicans voted no on at least two of the bills, and every single Republican state senator voted against two or more. Eight Republican senators, including Minority Leader Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita, voted no on four or more of the bills. Bakersfield Sen. Shannon Grove voted against six.
Some Republicans used extremely specific hypotheticals to explain their no votes. Assembly Bill 218, for example, allows Californians to update their legal name and gender on the marriage certificates and birth certificates of their children. Orange County Sen. Pat Bates justified her no vote on the bill by claiming it could be used for “rewriting history.”
“It would allow one spouse to unilaterally change their marriage certificate from an opposite-sex marriage to a same-sex marriage … even if the other spouse does not consent,” Bates said. “Children would … have to use and present a birth certificate to others that may falsely state what the genders of their parents were at the time of their own birth.”
These scenarios could very well occur. That doesn’t mean transgender or gender-non-conforming individuals should be forced to identify with an incorrect name or gender.
Wilk, who voted no on four of the bills, did not respond to a request for comment on why he and his Republican colleagues continue to reject such legislation. But Matthew Craffey, the chair of the conservative LGBTQ group Log Cabin Republicans of California, said he wasn’t bothered by the no votes.
“Simply because a bill says it has to do with the LGBTQ community doesn’t actually mean it’s a good bill,” Craffey said. “Will this actually make life better for the LGBTQ community?”
AB 1084, for example, which requires large retail stores to offer gender-neutral toy sections, is “completely unnecessary and a waste of time,” he said, especially when there are “so many much, much more important issues destroying our state.”
It’s true that extending the state’s eviction moratorium and instituting universal health care — to name just a couple of examples — could do a lot more than some of these bills to actually help the state’s queer community. But the flaw in Craffey’s argument is that legislation concerning gender identity or sexual orientation doesn’t really have any bearing on tenant protection or health care policy. The Legislature can do both.
Perhaps Democrats are legislating LGBTQ progress to a fault. But in treating equality as an unsettled partisan question, Republicans have a more serious moral flaw to answer for.
Despite the California GOP’s growing tolerance of the LGBTQ community, acceptance is a separate and still elusive matter. This divide is perhaps the result of an increasingly obvious rift within the GOP between those who tolerate or even support gay rights and those still clinging to old prejudices. While Donald Trump has recognized gay marriage as “settled” law, the former president also went out of his way to promote homophobia and transphobia.
The trend of California Republicans voting against LGBTQ legislation is hard to overlook. Such overwhelming GOP opposition indicates that California conservatives still tacitly support institutionalized homophobia — even if they’ve grown more accepting of same-sex marriage.
Republican leaders still seem to believe political incentives favor voting against bills that advance equality and civil rights. Of course, conservative Christianity has long been the backbone of the GOP, and faith has been used to justify anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The conservative pastor of Rocklin’s Destiny Church, Greg Fairrington, and his wife, Kathy, have been outspokenly homophobic and transphobic, and their congregation has only grown bigger.
The rights of those in the LGBTQ community are also being threatened by the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority. Former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, who had a large role in the new Texas law effectively banning abortions, urged the court to overturn both the 2015 same-sex marriage ruling and the 2003 ruling prohibiting states from criminalizing private, consensual gay sex.
A growing body of American conservatives are becoming more tolerant of the LGBTQ community. That doesn’t mean LGBTQ rights are guaranteed. Until the Republican Party denounces the homophobia and transphobia some of its leaders still cling to, the GOP will never be seen as an ally to the queer community.
California’s recall election proved that hateful conservatism isn’t a winning statewide strategy anymore. If California Republicans want to be relevant again, wholehearted acceptance and support for LGBTQ rights and people is a good place to start.