That this protection was not long ago passed into law is especially infuriating given the obvious and frequently devastating unfairness of the current situation in which employers have a free hand to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgenders. The failure is not a matter of having to buck the public. Polls, including this one consistently have shown a majority of Americans favor shielding LGBTs from job discrimination. But one problem is that nine of out 10 Americans in that same survey mistakenly believe that protecting gays and transgenders from workplace discrimination is already federal law. Most did not know whether their state has such a law.
In fact, 29 states have no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 34 states have none that do so based on gender identity. Results? LGBT people face discrimination on the jobs, including being fired, denied promotions and being harassed without recourse. And there is plenty of evidence that the nation is awash in such discrimination.
The federal legislation would end most public and private employers from discriminating against workers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill was introduced this time around in the Senate by Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon (a long-time backer of ENDA), Tom Harkin of Iowa and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin together with Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. In the House, the sponsors are Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida:
“Across our country, LGBT Americans face the daily fear of losing their jobs and livelihood simply because of who they are or who they love,” Polis said. “Dedicated individuals should be judged based on their work, nothing more and nothing less. I am proud to reintroduce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with Representative Ros-Lehtinen and so many of our colleagues in the House of Representatives. We will work together to see the federal workplace protections in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed into law.” [...]Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from the bill's provisions. And so are organizations that are already exempt from Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination.
“Discrimination is just plain wrong. It is shocking that there is still anywhere in America where it is legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Merkley said. “Americans understand that it’s time to make sure our LGBT friends and family are treated fairly and have the same opportunities as all Americans. Now it’s time for our laws to catch up. People should be judged at work on their ability to do the job, period.”
Please read more about ENDA below the fold.
While human rights and civil rights organizations have expressed approval of the overall legislation just for being common-sense justice, the religious exemption has raised some hackles. Previously, conservative critics of ENDA said the religious exemption didn't go far enough. Now some critics on the other side say it goes too far.
Justin Snow writes that the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center released a statement on the matter Thursday:
"It could provide religiously affiliated organizations—far beyond houses of worship—with a blank check to engage in employment discrimination against LGBT people," the groups argue. [...]
"It gives a stamp of legitimacy to LGBT discrimination that our civil rights laws have never given to discrimination based on an individual’s race, sex, national origin, age, or disability," the four progressive organizations wrote, adding that the exemption could, for example, allow hospitals and universities with any religious affiliation to discriminate.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that "the administration will continue to work to build support for this important legislation because we believe that this is the right way, the right approach to take, because it is inclusive and that’s why we supported it then, that’s why we’re glad to see it being reintroduced."
But, while LGBT activists say they appreciate President Obama's stance favoring ENDA, they would like to see him take a more active role in getting the legislation passed, something they say he has not done previously.