This Thursday, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will be introduced in the US House and the US Senate, with bi-partisan sponsorship in both houses.
The bill will be reintroduced in the House by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the most senior openly gay member of the chamber, who’s taking over the legislation now that former Rep. Barney Frank has retired. In the Senate, the legislation will be reintroduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The lawmakers’ offices confirmed they would introduce ENDA concurrently on Thursday.
The Senate version of the bill will have five original sponsors: Merkley and lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) will be two Democrats, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) will be two Republicans and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will round out the quintet.
The number of original co-sponsors in the House remains to be seen.
Because there have been promotions from the House to the Senate since the last time a vote was held on ENDA, new counts will need to be generated for both houses:
As ENDA advances, many eyes will be on the U.S. senators who’ve recently come out for marriage equality, but haven’t yet articulated a position on the legislation.
Those who’ve come to support marriage equality, but didn’t co-sponsor ENDA in the previous Congress are Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) — and most notably Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Also in question among the U.S. senators who support marriage equality is Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who’s new to Congress.
Freshmen senators who were formerly U.S. House members — Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — were co-sponsors of ENDA in the lower chamber of Congress, so would likely support the bill again in the Senate. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has said he supports ENDA and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) signed an LGBT non-discrimination bill into law as governor of the state in 1998.
Other freshman Democrats — Sens. Mo Cowan (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — signed a letter in February identifying themselves as ENDA supporters.
One issue with getting public support in favor of ENDA — critical nowadays on social media and through building contact with public officials — is that while most Americans support non-discrimination in the workplace, almost all Americans already believe there’s a federal law protecting people against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, even two years ago:
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research fielded the poll of likely 2012 voters in the first and second weeks of April 2011. Nearly three-fourths of voters (73 percent) support protecting gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination. This support cuts across political party affiliation, with 81 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents, and 66 percent of Republicans supporting workplace nondiscrimination laws for gay and transgender people.
The survey also found that 9 of out 10 voters erroneously think that a federal law is already in place protecting gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination. A similar number of voters also did not know whether their state had a gay and transgender workplace discrimination law. These numbers show the huge disconnect between voter perceptions about workplace protections and the realities that gay and transgender people face on the job.
This disconnect — vast support among all voting blocs, but a huge misunderstanding about the protections already in place — makes mobilizing support difficult for activist groups, since they need to educate sympathetic voters that their perception of workplace discrimination is wrong, and that something must be done:
As CAP recently reported, studies show that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace. An astonishing 90 percent of transgender people report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job. Nearly half of transgender people also report experiencing an adverse job outcome because of their gender identity. This includes being passed over for a job (44 percent), getting fired (26 percent), and being denied a promotion (23 percent).
While the Obama White House declares ENDA a “priority” and says the President’s goal of passing this legislation is one reason he hasn’t signed an Executive Order banning discrimination by federal contractors, there’s little push seen by the Executive Branch on Capitol Hill:
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told Reuters in an interview on Sunday that President Obama is hoping to bolster his record on gay rights with a push for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), but congressional aides say there is little evidence to indicate his administration is prioritizing the legislation.
“ENDA is a priority. Right now the votes aren’t there, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be,” Jarrett told Reuters.
An executive order to ban federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation could have an immediate impact for close to 20 percent of the workforce, and set a precedent that may goad Congress to act to guarantee similar protections in the private sector, supporters of such a move argue. “There is more that he can do,” Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, told Reuters. “He has repeatedly said as president that it’s people’s job to push him to do more and more, so we intend to keep doing that.”
Photo by mattymatt under Creative Commons license