Democratic Underground

It's Time for ENDA
January 17, 2002
by Eric Hananoki

The Constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If only everyone were lucky enough to enjoy these three tenets.

As a country, the United States is filled with vestiges of hate and discrimination. Hopefully, this time around, the United States will correct a wrong in the status quo. Because of Jim Jeffords' defection from the Republican Party, the Democrats now have the ability to control the Senate and the fate of a crucial piece of civil rights legislation. That bill is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.

If implemented, ENDA would protect gays and lesbians in the private sector from discrimination. As recent evidence shows, the problem of employment discrimination for gays and lesbians is quite common.

A survey of managers, cited by the American Psychological Association in 1997, revealed that 18% would fire, 27% would refuse to hire, and 26% would refuse to promote a person perceived to be gay. As of 1998, there was not a single openly gay man or woman in a senior executive position on a Fortune 500 board. Even more so, between 1/4 and 2/3 of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people report experiences of losing jobs or promotions because of their sexual orientation. As the Northwestern School of Law pointed out in Winter, 1999, "It is beyond debate that invidious and virulent discrimination has been and is directed toward and suffered by the lesbian and gay men communities in this state, and elsewhere."

Attempts to ameliorate such travesties have been blocked in the past by Republicans in both the House and Senate. In 1999, the House leadership refused to bring ENDA to the floor for a vote. That same year in the Senate, ENDA failed to pass by just one vote.

With Jeffords' switch there is some hope for the bill's passage in the Senate. Jeffords, along with Joe Lieberman, co-sponsored the bill and could lobby Daschle and the leadership for its push to the floor. But even if ENDA passes the Senate, it would still face tough opposition in the House from Speaker Dennis Hastert and his Republican dominions.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans see no reason to support gays and lesbians because they simply can't stand the thought of gays and their "immoral" behavior corrupting the minds of innocent, young children. Officially, though, conservatives invoke federalism as the major reason against ENDA. Republicans argue the federal government shouldn't dictate social policy to states since ENDA provides "special rights" for gays.

"Anyone who's gay already has employment protections under existing laws," said Connie Mackey, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council. "To have special laws for this group is unnecessary and something we don't support."

However, the "special rights" argument fails to take into account that "existing laws" are available in only 12 states.

Indeed, the biggest misconception surrounding the ENDA debate is that there actually are "existing laws." A poll from Roll Call found 85 percent of voters believe it is already illegal to fire someone based on sexual orientation. However, in 80% of the country, employers are perfectly within their rights to fire (or refuse to hire, or refuse to promote) an employee solely based on his or her sexual orientation. Even in states that do afford gays protection, legal remedies are hardly adequate, primarily because there are few, if any, oversight agencies to enforce such laws.

Even Mr. Compassionate Conservative, George W. Bush, has succumbed to the rhetoric of "special rights." Though the vast majority of the country supports ENDA - a Newsweek poll from July 1998 found that 83% of the general population felt that gays and lesbians deserve equal rights in obtaining jobs - Bush said in the presidential debates that he supports civil rights but not "special rights." In other words, he doesn't support ENDA.

To deny those who were born differently from others the right to work is morally wrong. Congress should embrace and pass ENDA not only on the principle of equality for gays and lesbians but also on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Equality should not be an option; it should be an American way of life.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article