Monday, May 13, 2013

Why ENDA Needs to be Enacted Now

Gay marriage continues to get plenty of news coverage and for good reason.  But in the process the sad state of affairs that exists for LGBT individuals in 29 states gets lost in  the process. What am I referring to?  The fact that we can be fired at will for the mere fact that we are LGBT and that we have ZERO legal protections from such firings.  In its main page editorial the New York Times goes full court press and argues that ENDA - the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - needs to be enacted NOW.  Here are some editorial highlights:

The overwhelmingly supportive response to Jason Collins, who came out last week as the first openly gay male athlete playing in a major American team sport, is an encouraging measure of the nation’s civil rights progress. But his barrier-breaking announcement a dozen years into his N.B.A. career also carries a reminder of a reality millions of gay people live with every day: being open about their sexual orientation could put their job and career at risk. 

A pair of landmark cases pending before the Supreme Court will help decide the future of same-sex marriage. But even if the justices do the right thing and issue a broad ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, that would not prohibit workplace discrimination, a profound impediment to real equality. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community remains vulnerable to employment discrimination in more than half the country.

Mr. Collins’s announcement coincided with the reintroduction in the House and Senate of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, an overdue measure to outlaw employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It has been stalled in Congress for years. But the idea that job applicants and employees should be judged on their professional credentials and the caliber of their work, and not be penalized because of who they are, is a basic fairness principle, and one that polls indicate most Americans support. 

Some conservative opponents of the act, known as ENDA, contend it would threaten religious freedom because its exemption for employers affiliated with religious organizations is too narrow. Actually, the proposed religious exemption is far too broad and needs to be scaled back. .   .   .   .    as it is now drafted, the exemption — extending well beyond just houses of worship to hospitals and universities, for example, and encompassing medical personnel, billing clerks and others in jobs that are not directly involved in any religious function — amounts to a license to engage in the discrimination that ENDA is meant to remedy.

It is one thing for religious groups to further their religious mission by favoring people of their own faith in hiring, as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act permits. It is quite another to allow the firing of a lesbian physician or transgender nurse when a hospital that is not affiliated with a religious group happens to merge with an institution that is. 

Congress has a duty to stop dawdling and approve a strong bill. In the meantime, President Obama, a supporter of ENDA, can take a significant step toward ending discrimination in the workplace by issuing an executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors. He has the power to protect millions of American workers, and it is about time he used it.

No comments: