A bipartisan group of Senators is moving forward with plans to debate the Employment Non Discrimination Act that would end anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations sectors.
In a statement Thursday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, announced he intends to hold a hearing on ENDA on June 12.
“Every American deserves an equal opportunity to earn a good living, judged by their talent, ability and qualifications free from discrimination,” Harkin said. “Workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible and has no place in our nation.”
Harkin continued, “This upcoming HELP Committee hearing will provide an excellent opportunity to build on the Committee’s previous work and help advance our shared goal of equal rights for all Americans. I am hopeful that working together, we will reach a point where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons enjoy the same rights and protections, and full equality, as all our fellow Americans.”
This announcement follows a bipartisan letter dated May 9 from Harkin and ENDA co-sponsors Mark Kirk (R-Ill), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) urging the committee to bring the legislation up for debate. In the letter the Senators said:
As you know, employment discrimination has profound effects on the wages, job opportunities, productivity, and health of LGBT workers. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) takes a balanced approach to ending workplace discrimination against the LGBT community. Specifically, ENDA would prohibit most workplaces in the United States, with exemptions for religious institutions, private membership clubs and certain small businesses, from discriminating against potential and existing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As strong supporters of this legislation, we urge you to schedule a time for Committee members to consider this proposed legislation.
The Washington Post muses that while Obama’s gay marriage advocacy can have little impact in terms of the legislative marriage equality issue, it may very well mobilize Democrats on issues like ENDA.
Obama has of course faced criticism for his refusal to sign an executive order on LGBT nondiscrimination in government contracts. He has repeated a desire to work with Congress to pass a legislative remedy first. This, however, has drawn the ire of LGBT groups who point out there is broad support for nondiscrimination efforts.
While there is bipartisan support for ENDA in the Senate, and there are a number of legislators both Democratic and Republican who are believed to support ENDA in the House, Speaker Boehner recently said that he was unaware of the legislation but indicated it was unlikely to get a hearing.
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