Congress to Consider Making Workplace Discrimination Against Gays Illegal

Members of GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization, stage a protest on Capitol Hill May 20, 2010 in Washington, DC. Activists call on Democratic congressional leaders to keep their promise to schedule a vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) this legislative year.
Pro-ENDA rally, 2010. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Federal law currently bans workplace discrimination based on race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age, or disability. Spot any glaring omissions on that list? That’s right: You’re still allowed to discriminate against someone just for being tall. It’s insane. Also, you can fire someone just for being gay or transgender.

A piece of legislation called ENDA — the Employee Non-Discrimination Act — would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1994 without ever receiving the necessary support to become law. But today, Harry Reid announced that he would give ENDA another shot by bringing it up for a vote in the Senate sometime before Thanksgiving. 

When the Senate last voted on the bill, in 1996, it lost by a single vote, 49-50 (these were the halcyon days when every single piece of legislation didn’t require 60 votes). But times have changed. The bill is currently co-sponsored by 54 senators, and advocates believe it will pass. “After months of meeting with Republican Senators and their senior staff, we’re confident we have the 60 votes to defeat any attempted filibuster,” Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida tells BuzzFeed.

As always, the GOP-controlled House will be trickier. When the bill came up in the House in 2007, it passed with just 35 Republican votes. According to our count, only twelve of those representatives are still in office, and would presumably vote for the bill again. Richard Hanna, a Republican congressman from New York who was not in office in 2007, has co-sponsored the bill, so that’s thirteen GOP votes. If all 200 Democrats back ENDA (which probably wouldn’t happen, but it would be close), supporters would only need to pick off three more Republicans to secure a majority. 

It certainly seems feasible, but only if John Boehner, you know, actually allows the bill to come up for a vote. And he doesn’t tend to like doing that unless a majority of the GOP actually supports the bill in question — the so-called Hastert Rule — which won’t be the case here. Sure, he makes exceptions here and there — raising the debt ceiling, averting the fiscal cliff, approving Hurricane Sandy relief, etc. — but those were drastic situations, not something as inconsequential as upholding the nation’s commitment to equality and dignity for all its citizens. 

Congress to Ban Discrimination Against Gays?