GOP should support ENDA bill
I’m going to say something that I’ve never said before: I am proud of Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain.
Our senators were among the 10 Republicans who crossed the aisle Thursday in a 64-32 vote to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire a person due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Call me crazy, but this strikes me as an obvious concept. You cannot fire a female employee because you discover that her maiden name was Garcia and you cannot refuse to hire a man because he lists community service at a local synagogue on his resume. But in 29 states, you can be fired for being gay, and in 33 you can be fired for being transgender or gender-nonconforming.
Michael Woodward, Graduate Assistant for Ally Development in the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, cites the example of a friend who began working at his current job five years ago. Everyone who started at the company at the same time has since been promoted, and his supervisors now have less experience than he does. “Why is that?” Woodward asks. Under ENDA, Woodward’s friend would finally have the legal right to question his employer.
ENDA was first introduced in Congress in 1994,but it didn’t initially include any protections for the transgender community. The bill fell one vote short of passing the Senate in 1996, with McCain voting against. Almost 20 years later, with the addition of provisions addressing the T in LGBT, McCain has finally signed on.
This was both a moral and the intelligent decision on his behalf. Republican pollster Alan Lundry found in September that 63 percent of Arizona residents support the law. He also found majorities of support in every state, amounting to two-thirds of citizens nationwide.
As usual, though, it seems as though the rest of the Republican party missed the memo. House Speaker John Boehner has reiterated his opposition to ENDA, in a statement issued by Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel saying, “The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.”
Yes, making it illegal to fire someone for being gay does make it easier to sue your employer when he fires you for being gay. That’s the point.
The Heritage Foundation has been making an equally incomprehensible argument. The statement on its website argues, “…[ENDA] tramples First Amendment rights and unnecessarily impinges on citizens’ right to run their businesses the way they choose.”
By that logic, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tramples every day on the rights of citizens with a deeply-held moral or religious opposition to the mixing of races, and those business owners are not free to run their companies as they see fit. The Republican Party is making an argument for another era: the right of the state to compel nondiscrimination even where it conflicts with the exercise of religion has been enshrined in law. What the Republicans don’t want to say is that they just don’t want the law to apply to gay people.
While there are legitimate concerns about the broad religious exemptions currently included in the bill (which would allow religious universities and hospitals to discriminate against employees with jobs unrelated to the business’s religious mission, like cafeteria or maintenance workers), ENDA is fundamentally good legislation. There’s nothing more American than ensuring everyone has the freedom to work. But perhaps more importantly for the Republicans, ENDA represents yet another wasted opportunity for them to demonstrate their place in the American mainstream.
Jaqui Oesterblad is a junior studying global studies, political science and Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Follow her @joesterblad.