May 10, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
UPDATE: The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold hearings on ENDA on June 12.
There is suddenly a great deal of momentum for the rights of LGBT people. After yesterday’s announcement by President Obama that he personally thinks gays and lesbians should be able to marry, two senators followed with their own announcements. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a long-time holdout in terms of denouncing the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (which he previously voted for) finally agreed to be a cosponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, to repeal DOMA. Along with that, he announced his full support for marriage equality generally.
Then, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also released a statement announcing his support for marriage equality. Interestingly, he said his “preference” is marriage between a man and a woman, but in a civil society we need to respect the rights of all people. It seemed to be less than full-throated, enthusiastic embracing of marriage equality, but it was still supportive.
Along with the new found courage coming from the White House and Democrats in the Senate, the Obama campaign also released a new video calling out Mitt Romney for his position on marriage and LGBT rights, as Jacob reported earlier today. The video is up on their campaign site, where they have a page devoted to the president’s announcement. They have made a LGBT-specific fund raising page as well and it’s said they are getting a lot of donations on that page. It’s a good way to contrast their opposing views: President Obama supports marriage equality for gays and lesbians; Mitt Romney wants a constitutional amendment to ban it (as his campaign reiterated today) and he also opposes even civil unions. In 2004, eight years ago, President George W. Bush announced support of civil unions. It’s inarguable that Bush is one of the worst presidents we have ever had in this country, so it seems to be quite an enormous misstep to actively work to be more conservative and have more regressive policies than he did.
And now this is spilling over into other areas. A group of Democrats and Republicans today announced that they are calling for Senate hearings on the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity:
A bipartisan group of Senators is going public today with a call for Senate hearings on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would expand the ban against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all but the smallest private-sector employers, I’m told.
Republicans Susan Collins and Mark Kirk wrote a letter along with Democrats Jeff Merkley and Bob Casey, which reads in part:
ENDA would prohibit most workplaces in the United States, with exemptions for religious institutions, private membership clubs and certain small businesses, from discriminating against potential and existing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As strong supporters of this legislation, we urge you to schedule a time for Committee members to consider this proposed legislation.
ENDA embodies the American ideal of fairness: employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity. While some states prohibit public and private employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, recent studies have found evidence of continued widespread employment discrimination against LGBT people. Sadly, it is still legal for businesses in many states to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We appreciate your past support for discussing this critical issue for millions of American workers, and we respectfully ask that you ensure an opportunity during this Congress for the full Committee to consider testimony on this bill.
Senate aides apparently told Greg Sargent that a hearing is a real possibility. Given the fact that most things that get voted on by the Senate require 60 votes due to Republicans’ attempts to thwart progress by Democrats in Congress, it does not appear very likely the bill would pass the Senate, and it may not even get a full vote on the floor. But last week people in this country who are LGBT were not seeing this level of progress, and now we are.