Avoiding a Filibuster
On Monday, the United State Senate took a major vote on the pivotal Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013. The bill, first introduced in the Senate in 1996, will give protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers against discrimination in the workplace. The vote on Monday was a procedural vote called cloture that a majority of bills must pass in order to avoid a filibuster by opponents of the bill. In order to avoid a filibuster, proponents of a bill must garner sixty votes in favor of moving the bill forward. The sponsors of the bill, Bill Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI and the first opening LGBT member of the Senate in US history), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) were able to get all fifty-three Senate Democrats, the two Independent Senators—that caucus with the Democrats, and six Republican Senators to in favor of the cloture motion. Now that the cloture motion has passed the full Senate can begin debating the merits of the actual bill.
Republican Support for LGBT Workplace Protections
There have been a growing number of Republicans that have come out in favor of ENDA. The Republicans Senators that voted in favor of the cloture motion, thus opening the doors to debate on the bill, include: Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Rob Portman (R-OH). Republican Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski has also voiced support for the bill but was not present for the cloture vote on Monday.
Republican support for workplace protections for LGBT workers has been a growing movement across the United States. The Human Right Campaign recently released a study that showed that of all 451 state Republican nationwide that voted in favor of giving workplace protections to LGBT workers on a state level 91% of them were re-elected in the following election.
Unfortunately, Tennessee Republican Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander were not among those in support.
"The vote was important step forward," said Marisa Richmond, lobbyist for Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC). "We are pleased that the Senate finally brought the trans inclusive version for a vote. We are, however, disappointed that both of Tennessee's Senators voted against equality and for discrimination. They have chosen to stand on the wrong side of history.We now urge members of the House of Representatives to tell Speaker Boehner that it is time to bring this version of ENDA to a vote on the floor of the House as well."
When news broke Monday that Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada would be the 60th member of the US Senate to openly support the passage of ENDA Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement through his press secretary that he opposed any bill the gave protections to LGBT workers and would block it from coming to the floor of the United State House of Representative. In a statement, Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel stated that the Speaker believed that the passage of ENDA would be a financial burden on businesses and would lead to "frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs". This statement comes as a blow to supporters of ENDA in both the House, where there is also Republican support, and the Senate which voted to move the bill forward.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin had this to say about the Speaker's position: “Unfortunately, House leadership appears to be consistently beholden to a tiny minority of anti-LGBT special interests and is already preparing to stand in the way. Americans are tired of partisanship and are looking for some sign that Washington can still get big things done. The Speaker, of all people, should certainly know what it's like to go to work every day afraid of being fired. Instead of letting the far right trample him again, it's time for Speaker Boehner to stand with the majority of everyday Republican voters and support ENDA.”
In an interview with the Huffington Post on Monday, ENDA's main sponsor, Senator Merkely, said he was "cautiously optimistic" of the bills future. He said that a number of his colleagues have offered minor tweaks to the bill that would not change the intent of the bill but would make it easier for some Republicans to support the measure. He also said there have been other suggested amendment that would "gut" the bill and he said "we have indicated that those changes won't be possible."
A final Senate vote on the bill could come as early as this week.
O&AN ENDA Poll
President Obama on ENDA:
Here in the United States, we're united by a fundamental principle: we're all created equal and every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. We believe that no matter who you are, if you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve the chance to follow your dreams and pursue your happiness. That's America's promise.
That's why, for instance, Americans can't be fired from their jobs just because of the color of their skin or for being Christian or Jewish or a woman or an individual with a disability. That kind of discrimination has no place in our nation. And yet, right now, in 2013, in many states a person can be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
As a result, millions of LGBT Americans go to work every day fearing that, without any warning, they could lose their jobs -- not because of anything they've done, but simply because of who they are.
It's offensive. It's wrong. And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense.
That's why Congress needs to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, which would provide strong federal protections against discrimination, making it explicitly illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This bill has strong bipartisan support and the support of a vast majority of Americans. It ought to be the law of the land.
Americans ought to be judged by one thing only in their workplaces: their ability to get their jobs done. Does it make a difference if the firefighter who rescues you is gay -- or the accountant who does your taxes, or the mechanic who fixes your car? If someone works hard every day, does everything he or she is asked, is responsible and trustworthy and a good colleague, that's all that should matter.
Business agrees. The majority of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses already have nondiscrimination policies that protect LGBT employees. These companies know that it's both the right thing to do and makes good economic sense. They want to attract and retain the best workers, and discrimination makes it harder to do that.
So too with our nation. If we want to create more jobs and economic growth and keep our country competitive in the global economy, we need everyone working hard, contributing their ideas, and putting their abilities to use doing what they do best. We need to harness the creativity and talents of every American.
So I urge the Senate to vote yes on ENDA and the House of Representatives to do the same. Several Republican Senators have already voiced their support, as have a number of Republicans in the House. If more members of Congress step up, we can put an end to this form of discrimination once and for all.
Passing ENDA would build on the progress we've made in recent years. We stood up against hate crimes with the Matthew Shepard Act and lifted the entry ban for travelers with HIV. We ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" so our brave servicemen and women can serve openly the country they love, no matter who they love. We prohibited discrimination in housing and hospitals that receive federal funding, and we passed the Violence Against Women Act, which includes protections for LGBT Americans.
My Administration had stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that discriminatory law. Now we're implementing that ruling, giving married couples access to the federal benefits they were long denied. And across the nation, as more and more states recognize marriage equality, we're seeing loving couples -- some who have been together for decades -- finally join their hands in marriage.
America is at a turning point. We're not only becoming more accepting and loving as a people, we're becoming more just as a nation. But we still have a way to go before our laws are equal to our Founding ideals. As I said in my second inaugural address, our nation's journey toward equality isn't complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
In America of all places, people should be judged on the merits: on the contributions they make in their workplaces and communities, and on what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the content of their character." That's what ENDA helps us do. When Congress passes it, I will sign it into law, and our nation will be fairer and stronger for generations to come.
image credit: HRC Website