Obama and 60 Senators Support ENDA

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com November 04 2013 12:21 PM ET

Less than 24 hours before the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, President Barack Obama says it "ought to be the law of the land" in an op-ed published late Sunday night at The Huffington Post

"Right now, in 2013, in many states a person can be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender," writes Obama. "It's offensive. It's wrong. And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense."

Introduced in every Congress except one since 1996, ENDA would make it a federal offense for an employer to fire, not promote, or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

On Monday afternoon, the Obama administration released a statement confirming its support for a fully inclusive ENDA, labeled Senate [bill] 815. 

"The Administration strongly supports Senate passage of S. 815 because the bill would establish lasting and comprehensive Federal protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity," reads the statement, emailed from the White House to press outlets Monday afternoon. "This bipartisan legislation is necessary to ensure that strong Federal protections exist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers no matter where they live. Workers should not fear being fired from their jobs, harassed at their workplaces, or otherwise denied the chance to earn a living for themselves and their families, simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity. This legislation would, for the first time in this Nation's history, make explicit in Federal law such guarantees, which are consistent with America's core values of fairness and equality. Passage of this bill is long overdue."

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he filed for cloture on the bill — a procedural motion intended to overcome a potential Republican filibuster — though at the time, only 59 Senators had committed to voting for the bill. That's one vote shy of the 60-vote threshold needed to shut down debate and move the bill to the floor for a vote. As of Friday, all 55 Senate Democrats supported the bill, along with four Senate Republicans. 

But Monday morning, Nevada Republican senatoir Dean Heller announced his support for the legislation, securing enough "Aye" votes to bring ENDA to the Senate floor, possibly as early as Monday afternoon, according to Think Progress

"After listening to Nevadans’ concerns about this issue from a variety of viewpoints and after numerous conversations with my colleagues, I feel that supporting this legislation is the right thing to do," said Heller in a statement. "Under the leadership of this Governor, as well as the legislature over the past several years Nevada has established a solid foundation of anti-discrimination laws. This legislation raises the federal standards to match what we have come to expect in Nevada, which is that discrimination must not be tolerated under any circumstance."

If ENDA does indeed receive a full vote by the Senate, it would be the first time in the legislation's long history that the legislative chamber has voted on a bill that included gender identity potations, and the first time since 1996 that any form of the legislation has received an up-or-down vote from the Senate. 

While prospects for passing ENDA through the Democrat-controlled Senate look promising, Speaker of the House John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, reiterated his opposition to the bill Monday morning, quashing hopes that the legislation might pass the lower chamber of Congress. 

"The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement reported at HuffPost

As The Advocate's editorial director pointed out in an op-ed in July, Boehner's concerns about ENDA leading to increased litigation are somewhat justified. But that doesn't mean the legislation shouldn't pass. 

"When a school teacher gets fired because it's discovered she has a female partner, or a cashier is told that being gay doesn't reflect a business' public image, then they should sue," explains Lucas Grindley in his op-ed. "That's the point of ENDA.

"The problem is suing is only possible in the 21 states that have gone further than the federal government and adopted their own versions of ENDA (some of which don't ban discrimination against transgender employees)," continues Grindley. "In the rest of the states, if a man is fired for spending his lunch hour with his boyfriend, he is out of luck."