Job protection for gay people: The next GOP test


    Who could possibly oppose the idea of protecting gay people from workplace discrimination?

    But you already know the answer.

    Amazing as it may sound, it’s still perfectly legal – in 29 states – to fire somebody for being gay, because gays are excluded from the federal civil rights laws. Thanks to those laws, you can’t be fired anywhere for reasons of race, religion, gender, national origin, age, or disability, but gays are fair game. On the other hand, if Congress agreed to enact ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, gays on the job nationwide would have the same rights as everyone else. The good news is, the Senate is slated to vote on ENDA shortly before Thanksgiving – and hey, with only five Republicans on board (maybe), it might trump the usual filibuster!

    The bad news is, ENDA has been in limbo on Capitol Hill since…1996.

    Yes, folks, the last time the Senate voted on ENDA (defeating it by one vote), Americans were dancing the Macarena and Philadelphians were watching fake-turf baseball at the Vet. After that, ENDA went into a limbo. It was revived in 2007, when it was passed by the Democratic House, but the Senate didn’t act and President Bush threatened to veto it anyway. One would think that equal rights for working gays would be a no-brainer, but we’re talking here about the scloretic workings of Washington.

    And, to most Americans, it is a no-brainer. Long before gay marriage earned majority support, job protection garnered landslide support. Back in May 2008, Gallup asked people whether gays “should or should not have equal rights in terms of job oppoprtunities.” Eighty nine percent responded in the affirmative. And last month, when Republican pollster Alex Lundry asked people whether they’d specifically support a pro-gay anti-discrimination law, 68 percent of registered voters said yes – as did 56 percent of Republican voters.

    So what’s the problem here? Why is such a popular measure (with current bipartisan support from at least four Republican senators) perpetually imperiled, and, indeed, quite likely to fail yet again this autumn?

    Take a wild guess. Presumably, you’re familiar with Sinkhole Central, also known as the Republican House.

    To fully appreciate the type of mentality we’re dealing with, I give you GOP congressman James Lankford of Oklahoma, who arrived in town thanks to the tea-party tsunami of 2010. When asked last year whether he’d support ENDA, he said no, because, as he sees it, gays don’t deserve the same workplace rights as black people, because, with gays, “you’re dealing with behavior.”

    He elaborated: “Race and sexual preference are two different things. One is a behavior-related and preference-related, and one is something inherently – skin color, something obvious, that kind of stuff.” With gays, “I think it’s a choice issue.”

    What a finer world this would be if people like Lankford availed themselves of the scientific literature – courtesy of the American Medical Association and the American Association of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association and the rest of the major accredited medical groups – all of which has long concluded that gays are hard-wired to be who they are. But I guess that respect for scientific consensus is too heavy a lift.

    Then you’ve got House Republicans like Kenny Marchant of Texas. (What is it with lawmakers from Texas?) When he was asked last year about ENDA, he seemed at first to be supportive. But you’ve got to read the whole exchange.

    A: “I don’t think any citizen of the United States should be discriminated against for any reason.”

    Q: “So if there were legislation saying it’d be illegal to discriminate and fire someone for being gay – “

    A: “Those laws are already on the books.”

    Q: “I don’t think that’s a law right now.”

    A: “Well, I’m not going to stand here and argue with you…I believe that those rights are on the books.”OK, ignorance about gay people is one thing. But ignorance about the law is arguably way worse. This congressman actually thinks that ENDA isn’t necessary because ENDA-type provisions are already “on the books” – despite the fact that when ENDA came up in the House in ’07, he voted against it. Although maybe we should go easy on the guy; maybe it’s tough to remember all your votes when you have to spend so much time fund-raising for the next election. Plus, he’s from Texas, the state that gave us the guy who insisted last summer that fetuses masturbate.

    Point is, most Republicans have been inattentive, indifferent, or ignorant about the worth of ENDA. They’d rather heed conservatism’s nut wing, which in recent days has been railing again about the dangers of protecting gays on the job; as one Washington Times columnist contends, ENDA “promotes sexual freedom in the workplace.”

    Sexual freedom in the workplace…Apparently he thinks that if gay people get federal civil rights protection, they’ll become wanton beasts, rutting in their cubicles.

    Earlier this year, in the Re[ublican National Committee’s autopsy of the ’12 election debacle, the party said: “There is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays – and for many younger voters, this issue is a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be…If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”

    So here’s my advice: If the GOP wants to have a future as a national party, its House wing has to vote for stuff like ENDA. Does it think that gays deserve equal treatment, or not?

    But the party wants to further consign itself to the fringe, it can nix ENDA and hew to its present course.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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