If ENDA Dies, It's Time to Clean House

I remember in the not too distant past, the House of Representatives was the body of Congress that initiated major legislation. Under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic controlled House passed over 400 bills in the four years she was their leader. Many of those bills stalled or died due to filibustering tactics by Senate Republicans, but a great number were signed into law.

Today's Congress is considered the least productive since the 1940s. And it seems most major legislation on important issues is beginning in the Senate: a clean budget bill, gun safety, Immigration Reform, filibuster reform, and now ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was proposed by Senators Gerry Studds (D-MA) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in 1994.

If passed, the bill would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Many have expressed surprise that this workplace bias is not already illegal, but the truth is it is not a national law. LGBT folks are vulnerable in 29 states that have not passed similar local legislation.

This Act has broad public support across the board. In fact, it is not a right or left issue but a human rights one. And I believe it will eventually get passed, just as same sex marriage will become the law of the land. It is like a fast approaching locomotive train. There is no stopping it.

I saw the evidence of a cultural shift in gay rights back in 2010 when Piers Morgan was interviewing Christine O'Donnell who was running for Senator in the state of Delaware. It is well known that O'Donnell is a conservative Christian who believes homosexuality to be a sin (I remember watching her on Bill Maher's old TV show "Politically Incorrect"). But when Piers Morgan asked her about gay marriage she recoiled and refused to answer the question and eventually walked off the show. She obviously was getting coached by her aides who knew it was toxic to be anti-gay.

Further proof of a change in acceptance of this issue is demonstrated by young people. Recently, Sean Hannity had a town hall meeting on his show with college students from around the country. There was a mixture of Democrats, Republican, and Independents who differed on fiscal views but when it came to gay marriage, they were all pretty much united in believing it should become law. Even the staunchest, most outspoken conservative female student said that the Republican presidential candidate in 2016 had better be for same sex marriage or he/she will lose. It gave me hope for the future to hear such informed and open views from the upcoming generation.

So if the polls and support have grown for gay rights, what is to become of ENDA? It passed the Senate 64-32 with bi-partisan support of 10 Republicans. This is why I think this is not a conservative-liberal issue. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) are for same sex marriage because they have offspring that are gay.

However, even though the polls show 73 percent of Americans support ENDA, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said he opposes the bill and will not bring it up for a vote in the House. This is becoming tiresome. The GOP has officially become the party of "no". Besides the renaming of post offices or courthouses, it seems the only bills they pass are repeals of laws passed or the defunding of Planned Parenthood. They voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act 44 times knowing the Senate or the President will not pass its repeal. In fact, when confronted with the accusation of being one of the least effective Speakers in recent history, Boehner said he should be judged by not how many laws he passed but by how many he repealed.

In my opinion, not bringing up for a vote legislation that the public supports is a cowardly act. That way, the thinking goes, the electorate cannot fault their Representative for being on the wrong side of history. But if Speaker Boehner really thinks this tactic will work this time, he is not aware of the coming freight train. You can't stop it.

President Obama made some good points in his op-ed blog for the Huffington Post supporting ENDA:

America is at a turning point. We're not only becoming more accepting and loving as a people, we're becoming more just as a nation. But we still have a way to go before our laws are equal to our Founding ideals. As I said in my second inaugural address, our nation's journey toward equality isn't complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Well said, Mr. President. Let's hope the Speaker takes your advice and brings this up for a vote. If not, the train and 2014 is a-coming and it may be time for some House cleaning. The GOP tactics of obstructionism, shutting down government, threatening default, and ignoring the will of the electorate must end so we can all be treated as the equal Americans that the Founding Fathers intended.