SENATE TO VOTE ON THE EMPLOYMENT NON-DISCRIMINATION ACT (ENDA)

A variety of news sources reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on the Senate floor on October 28, 2013 that ENDA is among the legislative priorities of the Senate, and that a vote will take place on the bill (S-815) prior to Thanksgiving (see https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s815/text for a full text of the bill). The bill prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by private non-religious entities with 15 or more employees (same number as Title VII).

The history of this bill dates back to 1974, and since 1994, every Congress save one (the 109th) has introduced such legislation, without success. A version of ENDA was introduced in 2007 after the Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives in the 2006 elections. However, that bill included first-time protections for gender identity (i.e., transgender), and President Bush threatened to veto the bill based on this inclusion. At the same time, a compromise bill that would include lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals, but not transgender, was opposed by a large proportion of the LGBT community. The bill was introduced again in 2009 following gains by the Democrats after the 2008 elections, and more recently in 2011 by Barney Frank in the House and Jeff Merkley in the Senate.

The current bill, like all other bills since 2007, prohibits discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity by private non-religious entities with 15 or more employees. Interestingly, as reported by Advocate.com (see http://www.advocate.com/politics/2013/10/27/cindy-mccain-signs-petition-supporting-enda), the groups/people that support ENDA include Cindy McCain, the wife of Senator John McCain. Advocate.com also reported the results of a recent national survey of 2,000 registered voters conducted by TargetPoint, which is basically a Republican polling agency. The key question in the survey was if voters believe it should be illegal to fire someone for being gay or transgender. The key findings were:

  • 80% of respondents believed that federal law already forbids employers to fire or refuse to hire or promote individuals because they are LGBT.
  • 60% believed anti-LGBT discrimination is a problem, including 54% of self-described Republicans.
  • 68% answered that they would support a federal law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT individuals, as compared to 21% opposing such legislation and 15% strongly opposing such legislation.
  • Finally, among Republicans, 56% support a federal workplace nondiscrimination law and 32 percent answered that they oppose such a law.

Assuming this poll is representative of all registered voters, there is clearly pressure on lawmakers to pass ENDA. Of course, President Obama, who has already indicated his support, would sign such a bill.

UPDATE: The bill passed the U.S. Senate on November 7, 2013, and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez issued a congratulatory statement the same day.

by Art Gutman, Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology

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