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A Bipartisan Attempt at ENDA

A Bipartisan Attempt at ENDA

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A bipartisan group of senators reintroduced a bill Thursday that would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Democratic senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Harkin of Iowa, with Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois, introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2011 with the support of several corporations and civil rights organizations.

"The right to work hard and earn a living is a fundamental right," Merkley said in a statement about the bill. "It is essential to the success of a family. It is essential to the pursuit of happiness. It is part of equality under the law. The test of whether you can get and hold a job should be whether you can do the job, not your sexual orientation or gender identity."

Kirk said he wants to follow the example of former Illinois senator Everett Dirksen, a fiscal conservative and social moderate who helped pass the pivotal Civil Rights Act.

"We will have more jobs and higher incomes when the most qualified individuals are given the best opportunities, regardless of orientation. This legislation ensures that," Kirk added.

According to a press release from Merkley's office, ENDA would prohibit employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.

Oregon-based athletic giant Nike, food producer Sara Lee, based in Illinois, and more than 75 other Fortune 500 companies announced their backing of the bill.

Nike U.S. director of government and public affairs Orson C. Porter cited diversity as the cornerstone of the company.

"Although more and more businesses in the U.S. have implemented policies that address workplace fairness for LGBT employees, the nation still needs a federal standard that treats all employees equal," he said. "Now is the time to do the right thing and pass ENDA into law."

Currently 85% of Fortune 500 companies have nondiscrimination protections covering sexual orientation. Only a third have the same protections regarding gender identity.

In the last session of Congress, Merkley and Collins introduced ENDA in the Senate, with representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introducing it in the House. Neither bill came to a full floor vote. It has been introduced in every congressional term since 1994 except the 2005-2007 session.

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