Senate Gay Rights Bill Faces Stiff House Opposition

Last week in Washington, the US Senate approved legislation that outlaws workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The bill is expected to face strong resistance in the House, but for now gay rights supporters are encouraged by the Employer Non-Discrimination Act's (ENDA) landmark passage through one of the Congressional bodies after being introduced nearly every year since 1994. 

About the ENDA

The Employer Non-Discrimination Act prevents employers from making decisions regarding employment based on sexual orientation – protecting gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Discrimination in the workplace can manifest itself in a variety of ways, and the ENDA would protect homosexuals from any treatment generated by resentment of their sexual orientation.  In addition to hiring or firing decisions, the ENDA would prevent employers from singling out gay employees by denying promotion or creating a work environment that is different, and less desirable, than the one afforded heterosexual employees. Currently, federal law prevents workplace discrimination based on race, color, gender, nationality, religious affiliation, and age or disability. 

For over 20 years, gay rights groups have attempted to pass the ENDA and extend the workplace protection to member of the gay, bisexual, and transgender community.  In 1996, the last time the bill was voted on by the Senate, the ENDA fell one vote shy of passage.  Republican opposition to the bill has been strong, but the party’s resolute opposition was lessened recently by the addition of exemptions granted to the US armed forces and qualifying religious organizations. 

Republican Controlled House Vows Opposition

Despite the concessions encouraging 10 Republican Senators to support the ENDA, the bill is unlikely to survive the House of Representatives.  Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has already expressed his opposition, and has indicated that he will not allow the House to vote on the matter.  Claiming that the legislation will create “frivolous” litigation that could harm small businesses, Boehner stands against the ENDA and plans to quash it without House debate.

Democrat rhetoric has emphasized the need for equal protection for gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, but it seems Republicans – citing existing laws in 22 states and widespread policy amongst corporations to prevent sexual orientation discrimination – remain unconvinced that the act is necessary.  As expected, the parties are at a seemingly irresolvable impasse, leaving negotiation or even productive debate unlikely.  It is not impossible to sympathize with either argument – a fact that will likely polarize the constantly warring factions further and entrench opposing parties deeper into uncompromising positions. 

The long-term future of the ENDA remains unclear, but its immediate fate appears sealed.  Although gay rights groups have promised to appeal to President Obama, an ardent supporter of the bill, to enforce the rule by executive order, such a procedure is questionable and unlikely.  As has become all too common in the American political climate, the merits of landmark legislation such as the ENDA will be overlooked in favor of political posturing – leaving the bill to die an underwhelming death without so much as a House debate.

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