Last week, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) told ThinkProgress that he opposes LGBT nondiscrimination protections, like those that would be afforded by the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because he believes it should be legal to fire people for their sexual orientation. He explained that he believes being gay is a choice that is simply “behavior-related and preference-related.” Since then, Lankford has embarked on a press tour attacking ThinkProgress for misrepresenting him, choosing to ignore video that confirms his position was quoted and described accurately.
He continued that effort today in two radio interviews with anti-gay hate group leaders, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and American Family Association’s Tim Wildmon. Perkins described provisions like ENDA as “special protections” and Lankford maintained that employers should have the legal right to fire someone for their “sexual behavior”:
PERKINS: The idea there is they’re looking for special protections; your point is that everybody should be treated equally. No one should be fired or denied employment based upon their sexual orientation — in the ideal world we won’t even know about it, why would we even ask that question?
LANKFORD: Right. But neither should you have a situation where no one can fire you because of your behavior outside of the workplace. We also should not be in a situation where there are special protections extended to say ‘if I have a certain sexual behavior then you can no longer fire me, I’m a protected class and I can do whatever I want in the workplace.’ That’s not true either. So we are trying to be able to keep that balance. When you say you create special rights you also create special privileges and protections to say that they are untouchable in the workplace and they can have any kind of work conduct they choose to on that, that’s not correct.
Listen to it (via RightWingWatch):
Lankford seems to believe that policies like ENDA would create an invulnerability, preventing people who are gay or trans from ever being fired for any reason, as opposed to merely protecting them from anti-gay and anti-trans discrimination in the same way race, sex, and other dimensions of identity are already protected. But it’s also clear that despite Perkins’ claim that “everybody should be treated equally,” both he and Lankford are building a misleading pro-gay narrative around their distorted understanding of sexual orientation.
Lankford and Perkins both believe that sexual orientation is a choice, but more precisely, that it’s defined only by behavioral choices. Neither comprehends (or acknowledges) that sexual orientation is an innate identity that individuals experience regardless of how or if they act upon it. From this discussion, they make clear that they don’t have any problem with somebody saying they’re gay, but if they “act” on their identity — whether it’s starting a family with a same-sex partner, campaigning for marriage equality, or even attending a drag show at a gay club — then they’re in violation of moral principles and shouldn’t be protected. What they are essentially promoting is a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mentality for the workplace, which they believe would be the same as being “treated equally,” not unlike what Rep. Steve King (R-IA) recently proposed.
Groups like FRC and AFA defend ex-gay therapy for a reason: it’s part of the foundation for all their anti-gay positions. Only if sexual orientation is voluntary can they justify the discrimination they promote, and they ignore over 35 years of science to believe just that.