The buzz in Washington is all about gridlock and the government shutdown, but flying just below the radar is a Senate bill that marks a rarity in Washington: proposed legislation has considerable support in both political parties: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which gives LGBT Americans the freedom to work without harassment and discrimination on the job.
Passing ENDA will not be easy, but Log Cabin Republicans and Freedom to Work are taking the lead on Republican outreach with the goal of visiting every single Republican office in Congress -- no matter how conservative the member. In our meetings with over a dozen Republican Senate offices during the past three months, our biggest surprise hasn't been our opposition, but rather our own community. Aides to conservative, moderate and libertarian-minded Senators alike have all been glad to be brought up to speed on the need for LGBT workplace protections, often saying, "You're the first ones to come in and talk about this issue with us." That doesn't seem right -- especially with a vote likely to take place in October or November.
Many times the working assumption is that Republican offices aren't "worth lobbying" on ENDA because of some unrelated position, or cynical thinking that the only way to pass ENDA is under a Democrat-controlled House and Senate. Some organizations assert that "they're not the best messenger" because of their partisan connections, endorsements, and bundling of donations for Democrats. But the fight for equality isn't a Republican or Democratic issue; it's about doing the right thing and making the workplace about merit and productivity, not discrimination and prejudice. That means asking for support from every possible vote, to ensure that ENDA becomes law and all Americans have the freedom to work regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We already have strong allies on the Republican side of the aisle, including lead ENDA sponsors like Senators Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). In the House of Representatives, Republicans such as Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), Richard Hanna (R-New York) and Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania) are leading the charge for LGBT workplace protections.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is a new -- and absolutely critical -- ENDA ally, particularly for reassuring other Republicans that ENDA protects religious liberty. We recently met with one undeclared Republican Senator who told us that Senator Hatch's expertise on religious freedom issues coupled with his comfort with ENDA's broad protections for churches, religious schools and non-profits was assuring as he considers whether to vote for ENDA this fall. Unfortunately, some liberal organizations are putting an ENDA victory in jeopardy by proposing that ENDA's religious protections should move to the left of what Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has already voted for twice. We believe ENDA's current protections strike the right balance, and will help guarantee ENDA becomes law with strong bi-partisan support.
Another hesitation among potential GOP supporters is concern over trial lawyers, and that ENDA might open a floodgate of litigation. Here, Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee did an outstanding job during ENDA's Committee consideration of convincing Democrats to delete provisions in the original ENDA that were too generous to trial lawyers. When we meet with Republicans and hear these concerns about lawsuits, we also share an important study by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law, which demonstrates that states that already have LGBT non-discrimination laws on the books have not seen any spike in litigation -- in fact, LGBT claims are less prevalent per capita than those based upon race or gender.
We also point out during our Republican lobby visits that many major American employers -- from Alcoa to Whirlpool -- have actively endorsed ENDA, while America's leading business coalitions -- the National Federation of Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers -- have maintained neutral positions on ENDA. Their neutrality is a carefully-negotiated victory that helps make possible all of the upcoming Republican votes in favor of LGBT workplace protections.
It's also worth noting that it was a Republican who enacted the nation's first sexual orientation non-discrimination state law in Wisconsin, and when he did Governor Lee Dreyfus stated, "It is a fundamental tenet of the Republican Party that government not intrude in the private lives of individuals where no state purpose is served, and there is nothing more private or intimate than who you live with and who you love."
It's been more than 17 years since the Senate last voted on ENDA. Then, the proposal fell just one vote short of victory. This time around, we have built a super-majority of more than 60 votes, including many Republican Senators. We're working every day to push that number well above 60, so please call your Senators and let them know that if they support ENDA, you'll support them.
And if you think it's not worth reaching out to Republicans, think again.
Christian Berle is the Legislative Director at Freedom to Work. Gregory T. Angelo is the Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans.