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Rachel Maddow on How Republicans Are ‘Rabidly Anti-Gay, Like It’s 1985’

Rachel Maddow has hosted MSNBC’s Emmy award-winning “Rachel Maddow Show” since 2008. She is the first openly gay news anchor in the U.S. Maddow talked to Variety about the shaky status of the LGBT community’s civil rights earlier this month, before Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage.

This interview is part of Variety’s 106-page marriage equality special issue, which includes more Q&As with Eric Garcetti, Barney Frank and Elton John.

How wide-ranging is the Supreme Court decision?

Friday’s ruling is about marriage, which is an important aspect of equal rights. But the fact remains that in many places, you can still get fired or evicted if your boss or landlord knows you’re gay — or even thinks you’re gay. Basic discrimination issues can have a material impact on the lives of many gay people; a lot of those fights will remain. There’s been a self-congratulatory, easy narrative — how gay rights have won, the issue is settled, the battle is over. The progress is true about the country as a whole. But we have a 50-50 divided political system, and one party is rabidly anti-gay, like it’s 1985.

How will this play in 2016?

If anybody were against marriage equality in the Democratic primary, it would hurt them. But there are about two dozen Republicans seeking the nomination and, other than George Pataki, every one of them is against marriage equality. None of them thinks it will be a liability to be anti-gay in 2016. And some of them are anti-gay on every civil-rights issue. Scott Walker wants to amend the Constitution to deny gay rights. When George W. Bush was running in 2004, that’s one of the things he said he wanted to do. But once he got re-elected, he dropped it. It’s surprising that more than 10 years later, it’s still considered a live issue.

There’s a lot of anti-gay organizing happening in the Republican party; they’re still passing legislation all over the country, even though we are supposedly in a more tolerant time. Much of this anti-gay movement flies under the radar, because the Big Picture is that the country is becoming more accepting. But the backlash is vicious. I know there are a lot of progressive Republicans. But what’s going on inside high-end Republican politics and Republican politics within the states doesn’t match this happy-talk narrative.

What’s been your experience on MSNBC?

When MSNBC and (network president) Phil Griffin decided to give me a show, they were hiring the first openly gay anchor in primetime in the U.S.; they made this decision bravely. And the longer I’m on the air, and the more people come out — there are a lot more openly gay anchors now — it’s becoming less the defining issue about what I do. And to me, that’s the point of being out. I don’t want the fact that I’m gay to be the only important thing you can absorb about me. I have things to say which have nothing to do with that, and I need you to be able to hear me.

What happens next?

Overall poll numbers show that people are OK with marriage equality, and are not prejudiced. Those numbers are nice and comforting, but they don’t reflect the legal status of gay people in this country, which is tenuous. It’s an ongoing fight, and there is still a long way to go on basic civil-rights protection for gay people in this country. It’s two steps forward, one step back, but that’s still progress.

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