LGBT Groups Cheer Senate Passage of Employment Non-Discrimination Act
With nearly two-thirds of the Senate voting in favor, the chamber approved a ban on workplace bias based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The bill, which LGBT groups strongly support but religious conservative groups oppose, faces an uphill battle in the House.
It took two full decades, but a key piece of gay-rights legislation passed one chamber of Congress on Thursday.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was first introduced in Congress in 1994 and has been re-introduced and revised numerous times since, passed the Senate on Thursday in a 64-32 vote—a development that many groups are calling historic. The victory, however, could end there, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) opposes the bill and has stated he does not plan to bring it up for a vote in the chamber.
Among the reactions from the association world and elsewhere:
Gay-rights groups: Numerous LGBT advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, praised the Senate vote and strongly encouraged the House to act on the bill. In a statement, HRC noted that the bill had support in both parties (10 GOP senators voted for the measure). “Today, a strong bipartisan majority of the United States Senate made history by standing up for a fundamental American truth,” stated HRC President Chad Griffin. “Each and every American worker should be judged based on the work they do, and never based on who they are. This broad Senate coalition has sent a vital message that civil rights legislation should never be tied up by partisan political games.” GLAAD, meanwhile, disputed claims that the bill would lead to a rise in frivolous litigation. “Losing one’s job is never frivolous, and to be fired because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is particularly egregious,” noted GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund called the move a “huge historic victory.”
Conservative organizations: The American Family Association, which has taken strong stances in the past against similar bills, raised concerns expressed by a number of religious-based organizations that ENDA would “force religious business owners and workplaces such as Christian bookstores, religious publishing houses, preschools, and religious television and radio stations to accept as normal any employee” who is a transgender person. Though the bill includes exemptions for religious organizations, many religious groups have called the exemptions too limited.
Other stances: The American Psychological Association, which supported ENDA, compiled a summary of existing research on sexual orientation offering “the scientists’ perspective” on the issues. “In sum,” the group wrote, “allowing an atmosphere of intolerance based on sexual orientation in the workplace is not only detrimental for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals but for heterosexuals and employee relations.” Meanwhile, several large business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, have not taken a stance on the legislation, which some LGBT activists consider a victory in itself.
The bill, if it passes the House, would codify an issue that many parts of the business world have addressed on their own. Most Fortune 500 businesses have adopted policies that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and many offer benefits to same-sex partners, including the largest private employer in the country, Walmart.