WASHINGTON -- Even though his wife is petitioning him to back the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has not yet decided how he will vote, saying he is concerned the landmark civil rights legislation could result in "reverse discrimination."
ENDA would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Monday he plans to bring the legislation to the floor before Thanksgiving.
When asked what lingering concerns he had about backing ENDA, McCain replied, "Whether it imposes quotas, whether it has reverse discrimination, whether it has the kinds of provisions that really preserve equal rights for all citizens or, like for example, busing. Busing was done in the name of equality. Busing was a failure. Quotas were a failure. A lot of people thought they were solutions. They weren't. They bred problems."
Polls show that a majority of Americans support making it illegal to fire LGBT individuals, and young voters -- including Republicans -- are more supportive of gay rights than older voters.
Yet McCain insisted young people would share his concerns about the legislation.
"I think the young people know we do not need reverse discrimination, they don't believe in quotas and they don't believe in some of the programs we saw in the name of racial equality implemented in the past which turned out to be counterproductive," he said. "Ask people in Boston if busing turned out to be a good idea."
ENDA does not institute quotas, reverse discrimination or busing. Federal law already makes it illegal to discriminate in hiring or employment on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age or disability. ENDA would simply make sure that LGBT individuals aren't singled out for special treatment.
"ENDA expressly prohibits quotas and the senator is mistaken on that aspect of the law," said Tico Almeida, founder and president of Freedom to Work, which is lobbying for ENDA. He said his group has already met with McCain's office on the legislation and has a follow-up meeting later this week, where they will emphasize the section of the law that bans quotas.
From Section 4 of the legislation:
ENDA also bars what McCain referred to as "reverse discrimination," by saying it's illegal to retaliate against someone who may oppose the law:
What's more, ENDA protects people of all sexual orientations from discrimination. Therefore, a person cannot be fired for being heterosexual either.
Last week, McCain's wife, Cindy, signed a Human Rights Campaign postcard urging her husband to back ENDA.
ENDA currently has 56 backers in the Senate, and when Sen.-elect Cory Booker (D-N.J.) takes office this week, that number is expected to rise to 57, putting it just below the 60-vote threshold needed to clear the Senate.