Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and effectively overturned California’s Proposition 8, allowing same-sex couples in that state to resume getting married. But workplace discrimination offers a reminder that Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) still face barriers to opportunities on the job.
Federal law bans job bias based on race, religion, ethnicity, age, and disability, but does not prohibit bias on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Some state laws provide such protection, but in 29 states, an employee can be fired for being gay or transgendered.
The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would protect such employees from workplace harassment or firing. Religious employers, such as houses of worship and parochial schools, would be exempt. A Senate committee approved the bill this month.
Although ENDA has 53 cosponsors in the Senate and 177 in the House, this isn’t the first time it’s been proposed. A similar bill has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994.
Most sponsors and co-sponsors are Democrats, but several Republicans, such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, also support the measure. That suggests a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans could pass the measure — if GOP leaders would permit a vote.
A 2011 report by the UCLA law school found that 38 percent of LGBT individuals who were open about their sexuality at work were discriminated against, and 28 percent were fired. The best way to prevent this unfair treatment is to pass the anti-discrimination act.
More Americans than ever before say they support gay rights. According to the Center for American Progress, nine out of 10 Americans already think there is a federal law that protects LGBT employees. Congress must make that perception a reality.