Senate Democrats Pledge Support For Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Oct 31, 2013
Originally published on October 31, 2013 3:35 pm

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin says he’ll vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA, making him the latest Senate Democrat to throw his support behind the law that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace.

The bill is now only one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said earlier this week that he will push for a vote as early as next week.

We need national protection in every corner of the country.
–Brian Moulton

Though it’s unlikely that ENDA will be taken up in the Republican-controlled House, it will force Senate Republicans to take a stance on the issue, and could paint House Republicans as being out of step with the majority of Americans by obstructing a bill aimed at ending workplace discrimination.

“It’s undoubtedly a much more challenging environment for us in the House,” Brian Moulton, the legal counsel for the Human Rights Campaign told Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson. “And what we really need to do is demonstrate strong bipartisan support for this measure in the Senate.”

Moulton says, though, that the bill does have Republican co-sponsors in the House.

Workplace discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity have been taken up by municipal and state governments.

Twenty-one states have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 17 have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on gender identity.

But Moulton says it’s not enough.

“In the vast majority of places in this country, there is no legal protection against discrimination on the state or local level, and we need national protection in every corner of the country,” Moulton said.

Even though same-sex marriage has taken up the movement’s energy and has made great strides, Moulton says “it is frustrating that what one might think of as a more basic and fundamental protection — protection in the work place — is still not yet a reality in the entire country.”

Guest

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

As soon as next week, the U.S. Senate could take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would ban discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This week, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he will vote for ENDA, which means all Senate Democrats support the bill.

Joining us now is Brian Moulton, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign. That's an advocacy group for the LGBT community. He is in Washington. Brian, welcome.

BRIAN MOULTON: Thank you.

HOBSON: Well, first of all, just tell us what ENDA would do.

MOULTON: Well, it's, as you described, a fairly simple proposition that would add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to federal employment discrimination law, laws that already protect people based on their race and their sex, their religion, disability, those sorts of things.

HOBSON: And it appears that with Manchin's support, there are now 59 senators on board. There will have to be one more to overcome any potential filibuster. Is there another senator you're going to be able to get on your side?

MOULTON: We're very optimistic. There are a number of members of the Republican Party in the Senate that we are working very hard to get on the right side of this issue so we can proceed to the floor and see these important protections pass.

HOBSON: But what about the House? That will be a big hurdle. I want to listen here to what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said when he was speaking about this this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SENATOR HARRY REID: We haven't taken this up for a number of years, Mr. President. We tried. It failed in the House of Representatives before, but we're going to take it up here again.

DEREK THOMPSON: So, Brian, is there any chance that the House would take up this bill if it passes the Senate?

MOULTON: Well, it's undoubtedly a much more challenging environment for us in the House. And what we really need to do is demonstrate strong bipartisan support for this measure in the Senate, and that's what we're working to do in the next week, hopefully. Certainly we're going to look for every opportunity we can after that to get to the House and really demonstrate to the American people and the House leadership that this is something that they need to do.

HOBSON: Do you have Republicans in the House on board?

MOULTON: We do. We do have some Republican co-sponsors of the bill in the House. Once we get past the Senate and can focus more on the House, I think we'll see those numbers increase.

HOBSON: But there have been people who say that this is all about just getting people to publicly either support or oppose this and that there's not much hope, at least for right now, of this passing.

MOULTON: Well, certainly, there's a great deal of value as we continue to try and advance a measure like ENDA in actually knowing where people are and making that clear to their constituents and giving us the opportunity to focus our lobbying and our efforts going forward. So there's a lot of value to moving this bill forward through the Senate even if ultimately we're not able to get it done in this Congress.

HOBSON: Well, let's get away from D.C. for a minute here, because this obviously impacts real people. How many people would be affected by ENDA? And what protections exist on the state or local level?

MOULTON: It's hard to tell - to say exactly how many people would be helped because we don't have yet the best numbers about how many LGBT people there are. But, you know, it's millions of Americans who live in jurisdictions where there are no protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

We have seen some advances in the states over the years. We do have 21 states that have laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace, and 17 that protect against gender identity-based discrimination. We've seen some advances in the application of federal sex discrimination law to protect transgender people. And there are a growing number of local governments that have adopted inclusive non-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBT people.

But still, in the vast majority of places in this country, there is no legal protection against discrimination on the state or local level. And we really do need a national protection for people in every corner of the country.

HOBSON: There have been a lot of advances for gay rights in recent years, most notably to do with gay marriage recently. Are you surprised that this issue, being discriminated against in the workplace, is still a problem?

MOULTON: Well, it is frustrating that what one might think of as, you know, a much more basic and fundamental protection, protection in the workplace, is still not yet a reality in the entire country. Certainly marriage has moved rapidly and taken up a lot of the popular attention.

I think part of our challenge is that - and our own polling has demonstrated this - that the vast majority of people think that there already is a federal law that prohibits this kind of discrimination. As many as eight in 10 voters think that. And so we also have a little bit of a challenge from the success of the movement for LGBT equality to make it clear that, no, there really are still these vulnerabilities in a lot of different aspects of people's lives. And we have to do what we can to address them.

HOBSON: Who's leading the charge against it?

BRIAN MOLTON: Groups like Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council, groups that have classically been opposed to LGBT equality, you know, quite broadly, are certainly communicating to members of the Senate their opposition to the bill. I think you see in the broad popular support for a legislation like this that those really are the minority voices. And we hope that the senators will recognize that what the majority of the American people want them to do is ensure that these protections are there.

HOBSON: Brian Moulton is legal counsel for the Human Rights Campaign that is an advocacy group for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community based in Washington. Brian, thanks for joining us.

MOULTON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.