In an historic step toward equality, the U.S. House of Representatives successfully passed yesterday the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The vote, 235 to 184, marks the first time ever that either chamber of Congress has passed employment protections based on sexual orientation.
“Today, we witnessed the making of civil rights history in the U.S. House of Representatives by the passing of ENDA,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Joe Solmonese. “This vote by Congress is an important step at ensuring that millions of gay and lesbian Americans will never again have to go to work in fear of losing their jobs because of who they are.”
In 31 states, it is currently legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. In 39 states, it is legal to fire a person for being transgender.
HRC helped introduce ENDA 13 years ago to prevent workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. This year, for the first time, HRC and allies on the Hill included gender identity in the bill to also protect transgender workers. One month ago, House leadership made it clear that Congress did not have the votes to pass HR 2015, which prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This week, House Rules Committee reported out Congressman Frank’s HR 3685, a bill that protects only sexual orientation, to the floor.
While HRC was disappointed that HR 3685 did not include protections for transgender Americans, it believes the successful passage of Congressman Frank’s bill is a step forward for all Americans, and that it paves the way for additional progress to outlaw workplace discrimination based on gender identity.
“Our fight for equality will not be won overnight,” said Solmonese. “It will be won one step at a time, and we will not give up until we reach the finish line. This is a critical piece of legislation and a major step toward the finish line for all Americans.”
Throughout history, Congress has often taken an incremental approach toward equality for other civil rights and business regulatory legislation. For example, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was introduced in five consecutive congresses for eight years and was vetoed twice by former President Bush before it was finally signed into law on Feb. 5, 1993, by President Clinton. Each time the FMLA was introduced, members built upon the protection from the previous year’s legislative action.
Additionally, each piece of civil rights legislation passed by Congress — in 1957, 1960, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1990 — continued the legislative path of the expansion of essential civil rights protections in law.
On Tuesday, HRC joined the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), among other organizations in the civil rights community, in support of the bill that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on sexual orientation. The letter was signed by 10 national civil rights and worker protection organizations representing millions of Americans.