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July 3, 2009

 

ENDA is back

Federal anti-bias measure has a chance to pass this time

Washington, D.C.--Two Ohio lawmakers joined their gay and lesbian colleagues Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jared Polis of Colorado bringing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act back to the House of Representatives.

Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy of Columbus and Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland are among the original 126 co-sponsors. The bill was introduced June 24.

Federal employment laws currently prevent job discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability. ENDA would extend this to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, covering all LGBT people.

The bill, also called H.R. 3017, has been referred to the Committee on Education and Labor. California Rep. George Miller chairs that committee, and is also an original co-sponsor.

The first bill seeking to protect gays and lesbians from employment non-discrimination was introduced 35 years ago.

A version that didn’t include transgender people passed the House in November 2007, then died in the Senate.

The omission of gender identity from that measure caused a huge rift in the LGBT community, and leaders, including Frank, vowed never to do it again.

With Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, this bill is expected to make it to President Barack Obama’s desk and be signed into law.

However, it contains an element that wasn’t in previous versions--the definition of marriage found in the federal “defense of marriage act.”

Frank’s office responded to requests for materials, but did not address questions related to this by press time.

Gay New York law professor Art Leonard published an analysis of the bill, explaining, “the bottom line is that this definition of marriage is put into ENDA to avoid the arguments, which opponents of the bill are likely to make, that ENDA would require employers to offer domestic partnership benefits or to recognize same-sex marriages, and presumably Barney Frank and other co-sponsors want to avoid having to engage that issue in this bill, so they slipped in the cross-reference to DOMA and leave the benefits battle to be fought another day.”

“If ENDA were to pass without the language incorporating the DOMA definition of marriage,” Leonard wrote, “it would be open to that Massachusetts employee to file suit under ENDA, and/or to file suit under the Massachusetts Law Against Discrimination, to see benefits equity for himself and his spouse.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Rea Carey called ENDA’s introduction “a critical milestone for our community and our country.”

“Passage of this critical legislation would help ensure that people are allowed to participate on a level-playing field in the workplace,” Carey said.

“ENDA reflects our country’s core values of fairness and equality. It is immoral to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people the ability to earn a livelihood and provide for their families. People should not have to fear losing their job simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

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