UPDATE: The Denver Post's Kurtis Lee:
Democrats assailed Coffman, a military veteran who serves on the House Armed Services committee, for his previous votes in opposition of repealing the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that barred gays from serving openly in the military. Indeed, Coffman is against same-sex marriage.
“In his time in Washington, Mike Coffman has clearly learned the art of manipulation. While he’s eager to take credit, he fails to back up his talk with action. Despite his claim to support employment non-discrimination legislation, Congressman Coffman is hardly a champion for gay and lesbian rights. Not only does he oppose marriage equality but he voted against the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” said Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio.
Palacio added that it’s “yet another of Coffman’s attempts to wipe away his record of extremism and hide from Colorado’s voters.”
A press release a short while ago from leading LGBT advocacy group One Colorado announces that vulnerable GOP Rep. Mike Coffman is joining Democrats in support of a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), to protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination:
Today, Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) announced his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In response to this announcement, Dave Montez, Executive Director of One Colorado – the leading statewide advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Coloradans and their families – released the following statement:
“Protecting against discrimination in the workplace isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue – it’s common sense. Congressman Coffman’s announcement today in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act brings his views in alignment with a strong majority of Americans who believe that workers should be judged on their job performance alone, and nothing else. As a non-partisan organization, we welcome Congressman Coffman’s announcement and commend support for equality across the ideological spectrum. It’s time for Congress to move forward and pass ENDA now, to extend the same basic workplace protections we’ve already passed here in Colorado to all LGBT Americans.”
Rep. Coffman's record on rights for LGBT citizens, like immigration, abortion, and other issues he has recently fled to the center on, is very clear–and dismal from the point of view of any LGBT rights supporter. In 2011, Coffman joined with Rep. Michele Bachmann and other social-issue Republicans to call for a ban on military facilities being used for gay marriages. Coffman voted against ending the military's reviled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and supported the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. Coffman even served as Texas Gov. Rick Perry's state campaign chair while Perry ran widely criticized ads disparaging the fact that "gays can serve openly in the military."
So what gives? For one thing, says Politico, the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign is courting House Republicans in an attempt to line up support for that body possibly taking up ENDA. But the chances of that remain very, very remote according to everyone we've talked to, most likely ending up as a message opportunity about support growing for the legislation–which we expect will continue to grow, even in the probable event that John Boehner's House never takes up ENDA at all this election year.
That Coffman is one of the first Republicans coming out in support of ENDA is no surprise, and it highlights another step in his political evolution. The Colorado Republican has reversed positions on immigration and abortion in recent months as he tries to fend off an challenge from Democrat Andrew Romanoff in Colorado’s competitive sixth district.
“I see this legislation as the workplace equivalent of the Golden Rule — do unto others, as you would have them do unto you,” Coffman said in a statement to POLITICO. “In the workplace, in 2014, we should judge employees the way we would want to be judged — based on our qualifications, our contributions and by our character, period.”
For Coffman, much like immigration, ENDA becomes another opportunity for reinvention without consequence–since ENDA is very unlikely to come up for a vote in the House, Coffman can say whatever he wants. Short of demanding House leadership bring the bill up for a vote, Coffman will never have to put his record where his mouth is, all the while reaping the positive press from his untested "change of heart."
Does this mean Democrats should be angry with gay rights activists for giving Coffman an opening to meaninglessly pander? Certainly not–any more than Dems should be with immigration rights supporters about Coffman's pandering to them. If your goal is issue progress, you welcome support wherever you can get it.
But it needs to be tempered by reality–and Coffman's anti-gay record raises more questions than this answers.