A New Beginning for ENDA?


UPDATE!! After 19 years of trying, the U.S. Senate has finally passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by a vote of 64-32. All Democratic Senators voted for it, joined by 10 Republicans. It now goes to the House, where it faces much more stubborn Republican opposition.

In a groundbreaking vote yesterday, 61 U.S. Senators–including 7 Republicans, two of whom are women–gave their “yea’s” for cloture on discussion of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). That means that the bill–which would make it a violation of federal law for businesses with at least 15 employees to use actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as an excuse to fire, refuse to hire or fail to promote workers–avoids a filibuster. It is expected to pass in the Senate.

It’s a different story in the U.S. House, however. Despite 193 cosponsors for a similar bill, Speaker John Boehner has indicated he won’t support ENDA. His spokesman Michael Steel said, “The speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small-business jobs.” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called that statement “deeply disappointing.”

As President Barack Obama put it in an editorial supporting the passage of ENDA,

Does it make a difference if the firefighter who rescues you is gay–or the accountant who does your taxes, or the mechanic who fixes your car? If someone works hard every day, does everything he or she is asked, is responsible and trustworthy and a good colleague, that’s all that should matter.

Federal law already protects against discrimination based on  race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability; ENDA would simply extend that to LGBT individuals. It came close to passage in the Senate once before, in 1996, when it lost by just one vote. Even though some states already have anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT workers, the federal law is needed because 29 states don’t ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 33 don’t offer protection based on gender identity.

Photo of 2010 ENDA protest by Flickr user mattymatt under license from Creative Commons 2.0