Today, the US Senate passed a bill banning workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals. What you say? It has not been illegal to fire people based on the fact they are gay or they are trans-gender? No, in the United States while no one can can lose their job simply because of their race, gender, religion or a disability, they can because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Of course, most all of the Fortune 500 companies (88%) have policies that cover this but there is no federal law that does. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is legislation that was proposed for the first time in 1994 in the United States Congress. It prohibits discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees. When I first read about this law I, like many, was surprised that we don’t have this law on the books already. In fact, there are 29 states where it is perfectly legal to terminate the employment of an individual who may be gay or transgender. The reality is that it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on his or her sexual orientation in 29 states. For those who are transgender they can be fired or denied employment solely based on their gender identity in 33 states. Take a look at the map – won’t be real surprising which states but that is a whole other topic. Pretty astounding when you think about it that in 2013, more than five decades after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act and then subsequent passage of the American Disabilities Act, we still have a country where this can happen. To be honest, this is one of those “duh” moments where you wouldn’t think there should be even a question – not like I’m forcing you to take healthcare. But we have a couple of key problems we need to cover as we look at why this has been taking so long and why, given the stance taken by those broad and deep thinkers in the US House – John Boehner in particular.
The arguments justifying this continued discrimination are several:
First, of course is the idea that it is okay to discriminate if something goes against the tenets of your so-called religion. One of the core objections against ENDA bases itself in the religious right and flails around with the oft-cited “religious freedom” banner. That too has been the rallying call behind the forces that have tried to stop many other causes that have come about to right the wrongs many of our citizens have endured over the years. I read it as “I should be able to discriminate against anyone and anything that doesn’t fit into my set of beliefs” – which of course makes sense because they are right and there are no other belief systems with any merit. But try to challenge their rights in any manner and listen to the cries of discrimination. They feel that this legislation affords special protection to a group that is not disadvantaged so it isn’t really an issue of discrimination. I don’t know but when I look around and see the second class citizen status these people have been pushed into, seems a bit disadvantaged to me. For anyone reading my blogs with any consistency, you will know I have little regard or time for those who profess religious base and demand special rights but don’t see the same rights for others and have no issue refusing to acknowledge that their view of the world, which might work for them, might not work for anyone else. See how far I would get if I, as an atheist, decided not to hire anyone who believed in a God because it somehow appalls me. Not sure that would fly. Of course, the immediate response would be that I couldn’t do that because you can’t discriminate against an individual based on their belief in a God. But believing in a God doesn’t fit into my belief framework around religion. Where’s my religious freedom? Again. ridiculous argument on one level but not sure where it is that different – mostly because reality and what is “real” as far as beliefs and what fits and doesn’t fit is in the eye of the beholder. And in the case of these religious zealots, the eyes seem pretty well closed. And, oh by the way, while I strongly disagree it since we are still allowing discrimination, religious organizations are provided an exception from this protection, similar to that found in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So you already have your cake – you don’t need to eat it too. We don’t have to live as you do (well, not that most of you really live what you speak – again, a whole other topic).
Now, onto John Boehner, the majority leader of the US House who has consistently demonstrated he doesn’t get that he is there at the will of the people in this country. He, single-handedly, will keep ENDA from hitting the House floor and therefore will try to ensure we continue to allow states to discriminate. Now, I happen to think that Johnny B. is somewhat of an asshole. Okay maybe not somewhat but entirely. Anyone who can effectively allow our government to shut down and bring us to the brink of default seems to have some flaws in leadership capability and really doesn’t get any points for style. But I digress. In the case of ENDA we see his opposition is really about jobs and the economy. His spokesman, Michael Steel said the bill “will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.” Anyone seeing a pattern here. I think he has one page of talking points and it is “one size fits all”. Aside from helping continue the Republican death march they started with the shutdown last month, this stance continues to play politics with our citizens and their rights. Not sure I understand the frivolous litigation other than the reality that we won’t allow businesses to discriminate in this area and we are protecting the rights of real people – doesn’t sound frivolous. Also easy to fix – don’t discriminate. I don’t know what you can do about Johnny boy here other than hope that the cigarettes and tanning booths actually take an early toll. In the meantime, I do have to wonder what skeletons he has in his closet – he doth protest too much.
So why did this particular item lead me to a blog? Despite the rant and the throwing of my usual rocks, I hope this one is a little educational. I pride myself on being up on most things but was taken entirely by surprise on the issue behind ENDA. This is a national embarrassment that needs to be rectified as soon as we can. If it be by election (hopefully it won’t take that long) then we need to inform.
Okay, last surprise – Fox News didn’t see ENDA as a news-worthy item as it advanced toward the Senate vote today – and of the 4 minutes of coverage it got, two minutes was spent discussing how ENDA was a planned distraction to take attention away from coverage of Obamacare.