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Filed under: ENDA

Equality news round-up: ENDA, UAFA developments, and more

By Scottie Thomaston

– The Washington Blade looks at the latest developments in Congress’ work on comprehensive immigration reform and the attempts to include LGBT protections.

– Dean Erwin Chemerinsky analyzes the oral argument transcripts in the marriage cases.

– In Belize, a gay rights activist is going to court to challenge colonial-era laws banning same-sex intimacy.

– The city council of Dallas, Texas will vote on a marriage equality resolution on June 12, but the mayor of Dallas has said the resolution is a misuse of the city council’s time.

– In an editorial, the LA Times says that they’re “not sure any religious exemption is necessary” in the latest version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

– This month marks the 60 year anniversary of President Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450, which launched investigations leading to purges of gay and lesbians from federal jobs. (Some of this history is recalled in the Justice Department’s filings in federal challenges to DOMA.)

1 Comment May 3, 2013

Democratic senators sign letter to Obama urging executive order on employment non-discrimination

By Jacob Combs

Thirty-seven U.S. Senators have authored a letter to President Obama urging him to sign an executive order that would ban federal contractors from discriminating in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post reports.

For some time, Obama and Democrats in Congress have been pushing for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would end such discrimination for both public and private employers.  Despite positive comments made just this week by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin regarding his intention to move the bill forward this year in committee and possibly on the Senate floor, the legislation is viewed by many as dead on arrival due to the make-up of the Republican-controlled House.

The senators’ letter, spearheaded by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and signed by freshman senators Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin as well as many members of the chamber’s Democratic leadership, urges the president to issue an executive order sooner rather than later:

[Y]ou are in a position to protect millions of American workers immediately by including sexual orientation and gender identity alongside long-standing anti-discrimination protections.

As you know, ENDA would prohibit most workplaces in the United States from discriminating against potential and existing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. From our perspective, ENDA’s premise is simple: it would make federal law reflect the basic principle that Americans should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, and not on irrelevant factors such as their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Last April, LGBT advocates were frustrated by a White House announcement that the Obama administration would not be signing an executive order in 2012.  At that time, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said, “The President is committed to lasting and comprehensive change and therefore our goal is passage of ENDA, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination — just as the President pressed for legislative repeal of DADT.”

Before that announcement, many advocates wondered whether Obama would sign an ENDA executive order or make a personal statement in support of marriage equality before the 2012 election.  “My feeling is you’ll get one, you won’t get both before Election Day,” a source familiar with the administration’s thinking told the Washington Blade.

Of course, the president did announce his support for marriage equality before the election, in May 2012.  That meant an ENDA executive order was almost certainly out of the question until after the election, perhaps not surprisingly: it any attempt by Obama to change the rules for federal contractors mere months before the possibility of a Romney administration meant those protections could have been quickly revoked.

Now that Obama has won reelection, and given the fact that ENDA’s legislative chances look slim in the 113th Congress, it seems very likely that we’ll see an executive order signed in 2013.  Perhaps President Obama will wait to see how far the ENDA bill can progress in the Senate–if Sen. Harkin does indeed put his weight behind it, it could very well be voted out of committee successfully–and then issue an executive order once the bill has stalled.  On the other hand, the president (and Democrats) could use an executive order to rally support for ENDA in Congress by pointing out the unfairness of providing protections for LGBT employees who work for government contractors but not those who are employed by companies that do not work with the federal government.

As Sargent points out, an ENDA executive order could provide employment protections to 16.5 million Americans.  In a blog post published last week, Ian Thompson of the ACLU explained just how important the ramifications of an executive order could be:

The impact that such an executive order would have on LGBT workers is immense, and provides the opportunity to create a tipping point moment with employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. An executive order on contractors, when combined with existing workplace protections provided by state laws in many states and by federal law for federal workers, would likely mean that, for the first time in history, more than half of all American workers would have legally binding workplace rights. And with federal contractors employing people in all 50 states, there would be at least some workplaces in every state where employees would have legally binding protections against discrimination.

LGBT advocates will no doubt keep their eyes on the ultimate goal of a comprehensive ENDA bill that protects all Americans from discrimination at the hands of their employers.  For the time being, though, as the senators point out in their letter, an executive order would help “ensure the LGBT population receives the same protections and opportunities that all Americans deserve as their birthright.”

1 Comment February 14, 2013

Equality news round-up: LGBT legislation and executive action edition

By Scottie Thomaston

Here are some updates on the legislative/executive front:

– Yesterday the Senate passed the LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act.

– Senator Leahy and Senator Collins reintroduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) to allow same-sex binational families to stay together. Last week the bill was introduced in the House.

– LGBT advocates are continuing to push for an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination against federal contractors.

– Senator Tom Harkin recently promised Senate movement on the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), and last night Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) backed him up on that.

– And last night during the State of the Union Address there were some references to LGBT issues: ENDA: “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”

DOMA/DADT and military family benefits: “We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight.”

And a mention of fighting AIDS globally: “So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.”

February 13, 2013

Tea Party Rep. Scott Tipton announces support for ENDA

By Jacob Combs

ThinkProgress reported on Friday that one of Colorado’s Republican congressmen, Scott Tipton, has announced his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect LGBT employees from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  ThinkProgress posted the following conversation between their reporter Scott Keyes and Tipton, a Tea Partier, after the Wednesday presidential debate:

SCOTT KEYES (TP): Federal legislation making it illegal to fire someone for being gay, for instance. What would you think about a bill like that?

TIPTON: I’m a businessman. When you walk in the door, if you’re able to do the job and you’re focused on your job, that’s all that’s important.

KEYES: I assume you wouldn’t fire someone for being gay. But do you think it should be illegal for other businesses to do that?

TIPTON: I think we’ve got a good policy in this country of not being discriminatory and we should not be in regards to people’s personal lives. It is in the employment into the world. It’s about the ability to be able to do the job. That’s certainly my focus.

KEYES: So you would probably be voting in favor of something like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?

TIPTON: Yeah, yeah. I don’t believe we ought to be discriminating against people for their private lives.

Of course, one Republican congressman changing his mind on ENDA does not a trend make, but Tipton’s move is still a positive sign.  (One other GOP representative, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also supports ENDA.)  ENDA has been repeatedly stalled in Congress because of opposition from Republicans.  Truthfully, it shouldn’t take a Democratic Congress to pass legislation that is so obviously about simple fairness, and adding the voices of conservatives like Rep. Tipton to the conversation helps to make that case.

1 Comment October 8, 2012

Democrats approve marriage equality in party platform

By Jacob Combs

This Saturday, the Democratic Party’s full platform committee, a body of around 120 Democrats, approved draft platform language that includes a full-fledged endorsement of marriage equality.  The marriage language was accepted without dissent and with little debate, a sign of just how established the position has become in the party since President Obama announced his personal support of marriage equality in May.

Last Thursday, BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner exclusively reported on the draft platform language established by the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee, which read:

We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.

We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

Also included in the draft language (and also reported by Geidner) is an endorsement of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit hiring and firing based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and language regarding bullying and support for LGBT youth.  The platform’s immigration reform section was amended as well to include new language which reads: “the administration has said that the word ‘family’ in immigration includes LGBT relationships in order to protect binational families threatened with deportation.”

The approved platform will be sent to delegates for a final vote at the Democratic National Convention, which will take place in Charlotte, North Carolina from September 3-6.

6 Comments August 13, 2012

Senate Committee hearing on ENDA just wrapped up

By Scottie Thomaston

Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee held its hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The latest version of the bill is transgender-inclusive and has 165 cosponsors. Notably, Congress held its first-ever hearing on ENDA that included someone who is transgender. In a place not known for its forward-looking views, this is truly exciting progress. The panelists testifying in favor of ENDA included Ken Charles, who is Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at General Mills, Kylar Broadus, who is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, Lee Badgett of the Williams Institute/UCLA (who also testified in the Prop 8 trial), and law professor Samuel Bagenstos. The opposing witness was Craig Parshal of the National Religious Broadcasters Association.

The opposing witness primarily argued that ENDA would violate religious freedom by forcing religious schools and corporations to hire people with whom their religious views are in conflict. A few of the other witnesses and some of the Senators on the panel pointed out that there’s a very broad section in the bill geared toward religious protections and that it’s in fact so broad that it earned complaints from even groups like the ACLU.

Aside from those complaints, there was a strong show of support for the legislation from across the panel and even the Senators seemed all in favor. Republican Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) was given permission to send in a letter of support for ENDA as well. She is not a member of the Senate HELP committee.

Kylar Broadus’ testimony was a historic moment in the Senate – the first time someone who is transgender has testified before Congress. And especially having a non-white person who is transgender provide insight to Congress on the subject of legislation pertaining to LGBT rights is incredibly useful and important. We often only hear from certain segments of the LGBT community and others are shut out of the discussion, even if unintentionally. It was incredible to see so much diversity among the witnesses and hear their perspectives on ENDA and LGBT rights.

Pam Spaulding has statements and reactions from the hearing including this one from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

“Too many of us still head to work each day terrified it may be our last, simply because of who we are or who we love. The stories are painful, and the statistics are startling. But this is the reality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people all across America. To be open and honest about who we are, about our families, often means taking a huge risk in the workplace. Something as simple as sharing with a co-worker what you and your spouse did over the weekend could place your livelihood in peril.

“America prides itself on giving everyone a fair shake and allowing them to fully and freely contribute their skills and talents. ENDA reflects these core values. It is why the public overwhelmingly supports job protections for qualified and competent LGBT workers. Many people think these protections already exist, but that’s not the case. There is no clear federal law, and there are no such laws in over half the states. This jeopardizes our ability to have or keep employment, housing and feed our families. ENDA will level the playing field once and for all.”

Whether or not the bill can pass – and it has at least a shot in the Senate whereas in the Republican-led House there’s no chance – isn’t even the most important issue. It’s time to start having these conversations and going to people and to Senators and Congresspeople and telling them our stories. Maybe it won’t pass, but just talking about it will influence the trajectory of LGBT rights legislation and even perhaps progress in the courts. Today’s hearing was a step toward that.

5 Comments June 12, 2012

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