U.S. Representative Barney Frank formally introduced the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) into Congress on Wednesday with 111 co-sponsors.
This is a significantly reduced number when compared to the number of co-sponsors the bill enjoyed on its introduction in the previous congress. That said, Frank’s staff were quick to point out that, given the sheer size of the Republican majority in the House, 111 co-sponsors is a solid number that they can now build on.
From The Washington Blade:
The 111 number, which includes three Republican co-sponsors, is nearly half the level of support that ENDA enjoyed at the close of the 111th Congress — when the legislation had 203 co-sponsors, the most ever for any pro-LGBT legislation — but Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson, said the current number of supporters is “a terrific number considering huge loss of Democratic seats last November.” In the 111th Congress, ENDA had 117 original co-sponsors.
Media reports had earlier indicated that ENDA introduction was set for March 30. Although Frank, the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress, made an announcement on the legislation on that day, Gural at the time indicated his boss wanted to hold off on moving forward with the bill until it had more support.
Even though he’s the sponsor of the legislation, Frank has previously said he sees no chance of passing ENDA during the 112th Congress with Republicans in control of the House and that legislation would have to serve as an education tool until the “next time the Democrats take back the House of Representatives.”
ENDA, as introduced in the previous Congress, would prohibit workplace discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or perceived or actual gender identity/expression. The bill carries a number of caveats, exempting small businesses and certain private religious institutions, but would strike a large blow for equality given that under current law it is still legal to fire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation in 29 states and on the basis of their gender identity/expression in 38.
As noted above, there is little chance of passing the legislation in this Congress, however Frank has said that he and other advocates would like to use this as an opportunity to reach out to GOP lawmakers and convince them that employment nondiscrimination is a basic matter of fairness and one that, like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, can be a bipartisan issue. It is hoped that, when the scales tip back in favor of a more even Congress or even a Democratic majority in the House, passage of the bill will be a much easier affair.
Recognizing that a legislative remedy is unlikely in the short term, advocates are pushing President Obama to sign an executive order extending workplace protections to LGBT workers. This would not replace an Act of Congress as it would only impact groups contracting with the federal government, but there is precedent for such a move and it would help to set the tone for the future advancement of ENDA. You can read more on that here.