Time for ENDA
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
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
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.