The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Nation's Largest Gay Rights Group Endorses Republican Sen. Kirk Over Duckworth

By Anthony Todd in News on Mar 23, 2016 3:26PM

In a move that has pretty much everyone outside of the Human Rights Campaign headquarters scratching their heads, HRC (the self-proclaimed largest GLBT civil rights organization in America) announced earlier this month that they were supporting Illinois' Republican incumbent senator Mark Kirk over his democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth.

Wait, what?

According to HRC's own surveys, Duckworth has a 100 percent perfect voting record on GLBT issues. Mark Kirk's record has ranged from 39 percent GLBT-friendly to around 88%, with the most recent survey putting him at 78 percent. This hardly makes Kirk the most anti-GLBT individual in the Senate (given that more than 25 senators scored a perfect 0 in their support of gay rights) but it does leave us wondering why HRC would endorse the less-supportive candidate.

Here's a clue: strategy. Kirk is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, a bill that would add protections for GLBT individuals to Title VII. Kirk was, in fact, the very first Republican sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate. So it makes a certain kind of sense that HRC would want to help him out in a political horse trade. They did the same thing with the first GOP representative, Bob Dold, who also sponsored the Equality Act, endorsing him on the same day as Kirk. Now that marriage equality is a done deal, the Equality Act is the biggest thing on HRC's agenda, and they want it to pass.

Mark Joseph Stern, writing for Slate, calls this HRC's attempt to play a "long game"—in other words, showing that Republicans might be able to win points with this traditionally liberal-leaning constituency if they support gay causes. However, Stern also makes a persuasive case that this is utterly stupid on the part of HRC. Why?

"Everyone knows that the Equality Act—and every other piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation—can only pass the Senate if Democrats control the chamber. There is no possibility that Republican leadership will permit LGBTQ rights bills to come to a vote. The Senate map is quite favorable to Democrats in 2016, but their only path to victory involves picking off Republican senators in purple states—senators like Mark Kirk. In other words, HRC’s goal of rewarding pro-LGBTQ GOP senators runs directly counter to their broader goal of, you know, passing pro-LGBTQ legislation."

Plus, potential individual donors (as well as shouting people on Facebook who may otherwise put HRC stickers as their Facebook image) are notoriously bad at supporting the long game. This means that HRC may lose the support of many Illinois GLBT individuals and allies, who are firmly in the Duckworth camp and will see this as a betrayal.