With the US Senate looking certain to pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), House Speaker John Boehner is already positioning himself against the legislation. This is a critical error that typifies Boehner’s tenure as House speaker.
When John Boehner was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, he did so pledging to make jobs “priority one.” The dismal failure of the House to actually prioritize employment in any meaningful way barely needs mentioning, but that Boehner’s office this week saw fit to comment not once but twice on his position against ENDA, a bill that seems entirely in keeping with his jobs promise, is laughable.
Said a Boehner spokesperson on Monday: “The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.”
The spokesperson later added, ”We have always believed this is covered by existing law. [This is] not a new issue or a new position — it’s a longstanding position, and, frankly, not ‘news’ at all. This has been his position, on the record, for years, stated publicly many times.”
Myth 1: ENDA Would Increase Frivolous Lawsuits
Boehner’s belief here is wrong and it is simply untrue that LGBT employment protections lead to frivolous lawsuits.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report in July stating that in the 22 states that currently have statutes that explicitly prohibit sexual orientation-based employment discrimination, survey data shows there has not been any marked increase in lawsuits on the basis of LGBT-employment provisions and certainly no increase in frivolous lawsuits.
Myth 2: LGBTs are Already Covered Under Federal Law
While gender identity is implicitly protected under current federal regulations, gaps in state and federal law make it lawful to fire LGBs in 29 states and have made it possible to fire trans people in 33 states for no other reason than their sexuality or gender identity or expression.
Furthermore, enumerating classes — like racial and religious minorities — has been shown to improve nondiscrimination efforts because it allows the government to more easily and accurately track things like employment figures and discrimination complaints.
Myth 3: ENDA Would Cost Small Business Jobs
These is no data to suggest that state level ENDAs have in fact been an imposition to small businesses as a whole. Furthermore, there are a number of small businesses, like the 300 noted in this HRC campaign, and big businesses, like Apple and a hundred other brands, that support ENDA precisely because they believe that sexual orientation and gender identity or expression should not be a barrier to employment. That’s in line with what the majority of the public believe, too.
The Public Supports Workplace Fairness for LGBTs
Majorities in all 50 states support ENDA-like legislation, ranging from 63 percent in Mississippi to 81 percent in Massachusetts according to a Washington Post analysis. Not only that, but polls often frequently point out that people believe LGBT workplace equality is already the law.
What can we conclude from all this? That Boehner and his cohorts aren’t interested in serving the public, but only a narrow agenda. Here’s the rub, though. We might assume that all religious conservative Republicans are against ENDA, but that’s not true.
Even Religious Conservatives Support ENDA
Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Dean Heller of Nevada joined several other Republicans and 54 Democrats in pushing ENDA past the 60 vote cloture threshold needed to overcome any Republican obstructionism this week.
Hatch, who has previously voted against ENDA and has in the past been a vocal opponent of several gay rights measures, is quoted as saying “Discrimination is wrong. The bill exempts churches and religious organizations, and the bill prohibits quotas and preferential treatment” and that is why he supports the legislation.
The Church of Latter Day Saints, while notably fighting same-sex marriage, has as an official stance supported ENDA like legislation in the past and does not appear to find this version of ENDA objectionable.
Indeed, polls suggest a majority of Republicans and even evangelicals support the legislation. As such, Boehner and his assorted House Republicans can’t object to this legislation on its merits because there is nothing objectionable about basic workplace fairness, especially not with (some would say overly broad) religious exemptions the bill contains. Nor can they object to it as a matter of following public opinion. As such, Boehner’s stance is empty-headed and simply panders to the bigotry of the Tea Party.
Are Republicans Needed for the House Vote?
Sadly, yes. It will take 218 votes to pass in the House and currently there are only 193 sponsors. That threshold doesn’t seem entirely out of the question because moderate Republicans have shown a willingness to engage on ENDA, especially because it is being seen as a way for the party to reach out to the LGBT community and engage with younger voters. However, that’s on the provision that Boehner will allow a floor vote and that is by no means guaranteed.
Yet this positioning will only serve to further dig Boehner into a hole: one that could benefit the Democratic party greatly.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
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