Bipartisan gay-rights advocates have expressed renewed enthusiasm about prospects for the Senate passage of legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The outlook for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) reflects the nation’s growing tolerance of homosexuality and the GOP’s political calculation as it looks for supporters beyond its base of older voters.
Federal law currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion or national origin. But it doesn’t stop an employer from firing or refusing to hire workers solely because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The bill would bar employers with 15 or more workers from using a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a basis for making employment decisions, including hiring, firing, compensation and promotion.
The first test vote of ENDA was scheduled for Monday.
“I think society continues to evolve on the issue of gay rights,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a co-sponsor of the measure. “As more and more gay individuals are open about their sexual orientation, people come to realize that they are their neighbors, their family members, their friends, their co-workers. That’s made a big difference.”
Opinion polls underscore Collins’ assessment.
A Pew Research survey in June found that more Americans said homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged by society, 60 percent to 31 percent.
Although the same survey shows the U.S. trails other Western countries, including Germany and Canada, opinions were more evenly divided 10 years ago.
In a sign of the times, the anti-bias legislation has traditional proponents like the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, as well as the backing of a relatively new group, the American Unity Fund. That organization has the financial support of big-name Republican donors — hedge fund billionaires Paul Singer, Cliff Asness, Dan Loeb and Seth Klarman — and former GOP lawmakers Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Tom Reynolds of New York.
“Most conservatives believe people in the workforce should be judged on their merits,” said Jeff Cook-McCormac, a senior adviser to the fund, which has focused on gay-rights initiatives in New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware. “They shouldn’t be judged on characteristics that are irrelevant in a productive employee.”
Over in the House of Representatives, Boner of Orange says otherwise:
As reported by Politico, Boehner will oppose the measure.
“THE SPEAKER BELIEVES THIS LEGISLATION WILL INCREASE FRIVOLOUS LITIGATION AND COST AMERICAN JOBS, ESPECIALLY SMALL BUSINESS JOBS,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email Monday. …
Senior House Republican aides say the bill is unlikely to come up in the chamber, as they believe existing law provides these protections.
As blogger Andrew Sullivan noted on Sunday, the threat of “frivolous litigation” has not been borne out in other instances when non-discrimination policies have been expanded. Nor is it the case that existing law affords the protections that would follow from ENDA. While there are local and state provisions, there are still 29 states that have no such policies, according to Human Rights Campaign.
The issue, unsurprisingly, has become a benchmark for conservatives. The conservative Heritage Foundation, largely focused on right-wing economic policy, demanded a vote against the bill, saying it “threatens fundamental civil liberties” by “coerc[ing companies] into accepting the federal government’s set of values.” It then explains why laws banning Jim Crow were an acceptable type of coercion.
More: Senate Heads for Vote to End Workplace Bias Against Gays