ENDA Passes the House
In a historic move yesterday the House of Representatives by a vote of 235-184 voted to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. This is the first time ever that a chamber of Congress has pass an anti-discrimination bill that includes sexual orientation. The bill passed despite numerous attempts by congressional Republicans to torpedo the measure. Thirty five Republicans sided with the vast majority of Democrats to vote in favor of equality.
“Today, we witnessed the making of civil rights history in the U.S. House of Representatives by the passing of ENDA,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “This vote by Congress is an important step at ensuring that millions of gay and lesbian Americans will never again have to go to work in fear of losing their jobs because of who they are.”
In 31 states, it is currently legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. In 39 states, it is legal to fire a person for being transgender.
Over the last seven weeks as intense debate over the decision by House leadership to remove gender identity and expression erupted in the LGBT community when it became clear that the votes were not there to pass a gender identity inclusive bill. Over 350 LGBT groups came together under the banner United ENDA to oppose the sexual orientation ENDA claiming that the passage of no bill would be better than the passage a bill that would sexual orientation, but not gender identity.
Openly lesbian representative Tammy Baldwin won approval by the House leadership to introduce an amendment that would restore gender identity language to the bill. She pulled the amendment at the last moment when it become clear that it would only not pass, but would have a poor enough showing that could hurt future efforts to pass a version of ENDA with gender identity.
In this whole effort undoubtedly the key player has been openly gay Representative Barney Frank. Barney has led the strategy that has led to sexual orientation ENDA’s passage in the House. He has been vilified by some LGBT activists for working with the House leadership to move forward sexual orientation ENDA when it became clear to him that the votes were not there for a gender identity inclusive bill. He has been accused by anti-gay members of Congress and right-wing groups of trying to push “The Homosexual Agenda” on America. But, he deserves a huge amount of credit for helping to move this bill forward and setting the stage for eventual passage of a bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
Barney delivered a compelling closing statement yesterday saying:
But here’s the deal: I used to be someone subject to this prejudice. And through luck, circumstance, I got to be a big shot. I’m now above that prejudice. But I feel an obligation, to 15-year-olds dreading to go to school because of the torments, to people they’ll lose their job in a gas station if someone finds out who they love. I feel an obligation to use the status I have been lucky enough to get, to help them. And I want to ask my colleagues here, Mr. Speaker, on a personal basis, please don’t fall for this sham. Don’t send me out of here having failed to help those people.
In one of the strongest floor speeches in support of the bill, African-American civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis spoke of the importance of taking the next step in America’s quest for equality:
I am under no illusion that ENDA will become law this year. It is extremely unlikely that the Senate will take up the bill before the end of the year and with next year being an election, members facing re-election will likely be focused on other things. I do believe that passage of sexual orientation gives us forward momentum for passing a version of ENDA that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in the session of Congress that begins in 2009. That makes it all the more crucial that we elect a Democrat as president and that we increase the pro-LGBT Democratic majority in both chambers. As we saw yesterday despite a few fair-minded Republicans, the GOP will stop at nothing to oppose basic civil rights for LGBT Americans.
The fight for an inclusive ENDA is not over. It has simply moved to a new phase that signals that we are winning and that the day that LGBT Americans can go to work and be judged by their job performance rather than their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression is close at hand.
More details at HRC Backstory.