An LGBT person working in the private sector in Alabama could be fired today.
That’s the case in more than half the states in the country. Many don’t even offer protections to public sector employees.
Since 1974, members of Congress have attempted to introduce various bills preventing employment discrimination against LGBT people with varying degrees of protection and plausibility.
Since 1994, every Congress but one has seen the introduction and defeat of a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.
After years as a perennial bill, this year ENDA is making the most progress it has ever seen.
Here is where the waters get murky. The past few years have seen public opinion shift drastically toward support for at least some LGBT rights, and even those who oppose marriage equality are hard-pressed to come up with a good reason for denying workplace protections to honest, hardworking people.
Those who oppose the bill are left to increasingly bizarre and vitriolic rhetoric, with radical right-wing radio hosts suggesting that ENDA’s true goal is to allow sex offenders to work in daycare centers.
This kind of nonsense is to be expected from fringe groups, disgusting as it is.
Harder to justify is the behavior of John Boehner, who, as Speaker of the House, is the most
prominent obstruction in ENDA’s path. Boehner is likely well aware of the backlash he stands to face from the radical right if he allows ENDA to come to a vote in the House, but he also knows that there is no reasonable argument against bringing the bill up for a vote.
On Nov. 2 it passed the Senate for the first time in history, and President Obama has expressed his support.
Boehner has predicated his opposition to the bill on typical small-government talking points, warning of frivolous lawsuits to come and suggesting that LGBT individuals are already protected enough in the workplace. His facts are dead wrong—certain federal jobs are the only ones protected in many states—but he continues to stand in the way of the bill’s passage.
There is something comforting in the idea that ENDA’s most prominent opponents are now being forced to lie in order to support their arguments. When the bill looked like it had a chance during
the last presidency, George W. Bush didn’t bother to argue that LGBT people were already protected.
On the contrary, he threatened a veto for no reason beyond his publicly declared dislike for LGBT people.
Boehner can’t get away with that this time. People are waking up. What wasn’t even noteworthy when Bush did it would cause a firestorm in today’s climate. But still, Boehner remains unshaken in his obstructionism. ENDA seems likely to go yet another Congressional cycle without passage, and, even with increasing public support, it likely won’t pass until both houses of Congress and the Presidency are Democrat controlled.
That’s too bad, because it’s just another nail the GOP has hammered in its own coffin.
Nine Republicans, including John McCain, joined all the Senate’s Democrats and independents in supporting the bill this time around. Americans are clearly ready for ENDA to pass. If Boehner isn’t prepared to deal with the inevitable, then the time has come for him to step aside and let progress march on.