Congressional debate delays passage of Employment Nondiscrimination Act

Courtesy C.W. Griffin/MCT

On Thursday, November 8, the predominantly Democrat United States Senate passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) in a 64 to 32 vote, according to the Washington Post. The bill’s road to approval in the Senate began on July 10 when the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions decided to take up the measure by a 15 to 7 vote after being prompted by President Barack Obama’s June call to end workplace discrimination; both Republicans and Democrats supported the legislation.
The Committee, after approving the bill, placed the measure on the Senate’s agenda allowing for a vote on passage to occur. 52 Democrats along with ten Republicans and two Independent Party representatives, including Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), coalesced together to support the bill. Despite a solid majority vote in the Senate and backing from President Obama himself, the bill must now continue to the United States House of Representatives where there is strong Republican (GOP) opposition to the measure, including from the House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
GOP opposition asserts that LGBT people are already protected from discrimination by existing federal, state, and local laws, making ENDA unnecessary. It is uncertain whether the bill will become ratified since GOP opposition means the majority of the House does not wish to place the bill on the agenda, and most likely will not vote on it.ENDA is the first piece of approved legislation in U.S. history to protect gay, lesbian and transgender (LGBT) employees from discrimination in the workplace.
Current laws in 29 states do not protect workers from being fired because of their sexual orientation, and 34 states allow the firing of transgender employees. The bill will provide the same standards of workplace equality for LGBT employees who are already guaranteed on the basis of religion, race and gender. For example, religious businesses can no longer legally fire employees of LGBT orientation, regardless of their religious  objections.
ENDA is not a new measure. It was first introduced in the Senate in 1994. The first version fell one vote short of passage in 1996 and was taken up again in 2007 when the Senate passed a different version of the legislation. In 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) asked Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) to push for the bill since Kennedy was falling ill. After Kennedy died, Merkley and Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) decided to co-sponsor the current bill.
Staff Writer