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USA: Final Vote on The Employment Non-Discrimination Act In the Senate Today

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

US CongressThe U.S. Senate is due to vote on ENDA today.

The Hill reports:

On Thursday, the Senate will vote on a GOP amendment to expand religious exemptions under the bill before voting to end debate on the measure. If Democrats get 60 votes to end debate, the Senate will then vote on final passage at 1:45 p.m. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), S. 815, would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Earlier this week seven Republicans joined Democrats in a vote to begin debate on the bill, making final passage all but certain.

Over at Towleroad, Ari Ezra Waldman looks at the danger of the overly broad religious exemptions in the bill:

Soon, there will be a federal lawsuit challenging a religiously-affiliated organization discriminating against an LGBT person or couple in the provision of services. At that point, a judge will go back and try to determine the balance between equality and religious freedom. He or she will write an opinion discussing this country’s long history of treating people equally. But the judge will eventually be confronted by the uncontroverted fact that LGBT equality laws have broader religious exemptions than equality laws focusing on other groups. To any judge that will mean that society (via Congress) has made a decision that religious freedom enjoys a privileged position relative to gay equality. And that will mean that religious freedom will likely beat out LGBT equality when the two rights come in conflict.

The judge will also look at what lawyers call “legislative history,” or evidence of Congress’s meaning and intentions when it passed a law. Democrats’ failure to oppose the broad religious exemption in ENDA will allow a judge to conclude that the only reason ENDA passed was because of the religious exemptions and that liberals seemed on board with the religious exemptions. They called it “unnecessary,” they didn’t oppose it. So, when a close call comes before a judge — and most cases that get to court are close calls rather than obviously answered by settled law — any court could interpret ENDA’s legislative history as endorsing religious liberty over LGBT equality.

So maybe Boehner is doing us a favor by blocking a vote on the bill in the House? Or should we give away whatever we have to in order to get something, anything passed?

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Did ENDA’s Broad Religious Exemption Just Get Broader?

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

CongressSome LGBT rights groups were already worried about the overly broad religious exemption language in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

With two supportive republicans not available for the vote on Monday, two other Republicans came on board, but apparently their price was even broader exemptions.

Melanie Nathan at O-blog-dee-o-blog-da reports:

The price for Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) was an amendment to ensure that discriminating religious entities which exercise the exemption would not be unduly burdened or penalized by Federal, State or local governments:

“A religious employer’s exemption under this Act shall not result in any action by a Federal government agency, or any state or local government agency that receives Federal funding or financial assistance, to penalize or withhold licenses, permits, certifications, accreditation, contracts, grants, guarantees, tax-exempt status, or any benefits or exemptions from that employer, or to prohibit the employer’s participation in programs or activities sponsored by that Federal, state, or local government agency. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to invalidate any other federal, state, or local law or regulation that otherwise applies to an employer exempt under this section.”

The New York Times also rips the religious exemptions in the bill:

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act, however, has a significant flaw — a terribly broad religious exemption. The exemption would extend beyond churches and other houses of worship to any religiously affiliated institution, like hospitals and universities, and would allow those institutions to discriminate against people in jobs with no religious function, like billing clerks, cafeteria workers and medical personnel. The exemption — which was inserted to appease some opponents who say the act threatens religious freedom — is a departure from the approach of earlier civil rights laws. And though the law would protect millions of workers from bias, the exemption would give a stamp of legitimacy to the very sort of discrimination the act is meant to end. Any attempt to further enlarge the exemption should be rejected.

Despite these unprecedented religious protections, Catholics are still trying to kill the bill.

Think Progress reports:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, asserting that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is essential to Catholics’ religious liberty. In a letter to Senators, the Bishops claimed to oppose discrimination, but then explained why they cannot support ENDA. Here are the five reasons they cite:

There Is No Exemption For “Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications”: With the exception of race, other protected classes like sex, religion, and national origin allow for discrimination in the case of “bona fide occupational qualifications” (BFOO), essentially leaving room for jobs in which a particular identity is necessary to perform the job. The Bishops argue that this exemption must be extended to sexual orientation, asserting that there are cases “where it is neither unjust nor inappropriate to consider an applicant’s sexual inclinations.” In other words, the Church should be free to discriminate against employees based on their private sexual behavior because some jobs require heterosexuality. They cite no such examples.

Think Progress also has a nice piece on the history of conservatives’ efforts to protect religious discrimination:

Here’s a look back at how ENDA’s religious exemption was first introduced, how it’s expanded, and how some lawmakers may push to extend it even further.

Religious Exemptions In The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) As ThinkProgress previously explained, ENDA’s current religious exemption refers back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of that law originally prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VII contains only one religious exemption, which applies to any “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society.” Such groups are allowed to make employment decisions on the basis of an individual’s particular religion. The same protection is extended to any “school, college, university, or other educational institution” if the curriculum is “directed toward the propagation of a particular religion.”

So do you think this bill should pass with its current religious protections, or not?

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USA: ENDA Passes Senate Cloture Vote; Prospects Dim in House

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

CongressThe Employment Non Discrimination Act passed a critical vote in the Senate yesterday.

Queerty reports:

The Senate hit the magic number of 60 on Monday morning when Republican Dean Heller of Nevada said that supporting the measure was “the right thing to do.” But at vote time, two of the supporters of the bill, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D.-MO.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-AK), were on planes and unavailable for the vote so Sen. Susan Collins (R.-ME) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D.-OR) began lobbying Republicans to make up for the shortfall. (All 55 Senate Democrats had signed on in support previously.) In the end, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who has a gay son and had already come out for marriage equality, agreed to support the bill, along with Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois had already signalled that they would vote to approve the bill.

So, assuming McCaskill and Murkowski would have supported it, that’s 9 Republicans for LGBT employment protections.

One of them, GOP Senator Mark Kirk, gave his first floor speech since a debilitating stroke in 2012 in favor of the bill:

“I have been silent for the past two years due to a stroke, under two years ago. I have risen to speak because I believe so passionately in enacting the ENDA statute. This is not a major change to law. I would say it is already the law in 21 states. I think it’s particularly appropriate for an Illinois Republican to speak on behalf of this measure, in the true tradition of Everett McKinley Dirksen and Abraham Lincoln — men who gave us the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 13th amendment to the Constitution. With that, I would suggest the absence of a quorum.”

Melanie Nathan at O Blog Dee O Blog Da thinks the bill is flawed:

Earlier in the year, NCLR, The Transgender Law Center and others noted: While we applaud the progress that has been made, we stand united in expressing very grave concerns with the religious exemption in ENDA. It could provide religiously affiliated organizations – far beyond houses of worship – with a blank check to engage in employment discrimination against LGBT people. Some courts have said that even hospitals and universities may be able to claim the exemption; thus, it is possible that a religiously affiliated hospital could fire a transgender doctor or a religiously affiliated university could terminate a gay groundskeeper. It gives a stamp of legitimacy to LGBT discrimination that our civil rights laws have never given to discrimination based on an individual’s race, sex, national origin, age, or disability. This sweeping, unprecedented exemption undermines the core goal of ENDA by leaving too many jobs, and LGBT workers, outside the scope of its protections.

Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan looks at the case for ENDA.

[T]he core of the debate is about whether employers should have the right to determine whether their employees can be out in the workplace. It’s about replacing individual control over one’s sexual orientation and gender identity in the place where most Americans spend the vast bulk of their day with employer control. This can’t be squared with a concern for individual rights. The employee-employer relationship grants the employer immense amounts of power over their workers, who depend on their boss’ good will for their livelihood. Allowing employers power to fire employees who come out of the closet, full stop, subjects LGBT employees to immense coercive pressure. Their most basic right to conscience, the right to express a core part of their identity, is obliterated.

But it may not matter. Before a full Senate vote has even been taken, the King of No has already nixed the idea of a vote in the house.

Edge Boston reports:

But as the good news came in, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Monday that he would oppose the law, claiming that it could be financially destructive for businesses across America, the Huffington Post reports. “The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said in a statement.

As Rachel Maddow often notes, this is the least productive house in our Nation’s history.

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USA: Employment Non Discrimination Act Updates

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Congress - Capitol BuildingWith the vote due today on the Employment Non Discrimination Act in the USA, we have few updates for you.

First off, there are concerns about the act’s broad religious exemption.

The Washington Blade reports:

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs for the Center for American Progress, said the religious exemption is necessary to enable bipartisan support to move the bill forward. “The current religious language reflects a bipartisan compromise that represents a pragmatic balance between ensuring that LGBT workers have the protections they need and organizations,” Stachelberg said. “While the religious exemption is broader than other civil rights statutes it will ensure that LGBT workers have the protections they need.” If anything, the movement in the Senate on ENDA’s religious exemption this week may be more toward expanding it even further.

In other ENDA news, gay-rights groups are putting pressure on Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey to commit to voting for the bill.

Edge Boston reports:

A key vote on the bill is scheduled for Monday evening in Washington, and one more vote is needed for it to move forward in the Senate, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, is a top priority for gay rights groups. State Rep. Brian Sims, a gay Philadelphia Democrat, wrote Toomey an open letter Friday urging him to support the bill, saying it would give gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals the same protections as other groups. “I believe that there is no single piece of civil rights legislation in existence that is more impactful to members of the LGBT community,” Simms wrote in the letter.

At last report, Toomey was undecided.

President Obama is also pushing for passage of the bill.

Towleroad reports:

President Obama published in the Huffington Post this evening, urging Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Wrote Obama, in part: …millions of LGBT Americans go to work every day fearing that, without any warning, they could lose their jobs — not because of anything they’ve done, but simply because of who they are. It’s offensive. It’s wrong. And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense.

Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan looks at the case against the bill.

The federal bill banning workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgenders is up for a vote tomorrow. Gay dad Wally Olson makes the case against it – and perhaps his strongest point is on whether it will ever be used: Statistics from the many states and municipalities that have passed similar bills (“mini-ENDAs”) indicate that they do not serve in practice as a basis for litigation as often as one might expect. This may arise from the simple circumstance that most employees with other options prefer to move on rather than sue when an employment relationship turns unsatisfactory, all the more so if suing might require rehashing details of their personal life in a grueling, protracted, and public process.

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook is calling on Congress to pass the bill.

Pink News reports:

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has written an editorial in the Wall Street Journal urging US senators to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The House of Representatives is expected to take a vote today on whether to enshrine the bill into US law. The act would protect workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Mr Cook is widely considered to be one of the most influential gay businessmen in the world, although he has never spoken publicly about his sexuality.

Do you think the bill has enough votes to break the Senate filibuster? It looks like we’d need to pick up at least five Republicans.

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USA: ENDA To Finally Get Senate Vote on Monday

Friday, November 1st, 2013

US CongressAfter decades of effort, the Employment Non Discrimination Act will finally come up for a vote next week in the US Senate.

The Washington Blade reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) officially set up a Monday vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act by filing cloture for the bill on the Senate floor Thursday evening. Reid made the announcement on the Senate floor with little fanfare before he moved on to other business and adjourned the Senate until Monday at 2 pm. Faiz Shakir, a Reid spokesperson, estimated the cloture vote on ENDA will take place around 5:45 on Monday and a final vote will take place sometime on Wednesday. By filing cloture on the bill, Reid starts for the time period for when cloture vote will take place to enable the bill to move to the floor. After filing for cloture, the vote will take place after an intervening day and one hour pass. For a successful vote on cloture, 60 votes are required in the Senate.

All 55 Democrats and their allies now support the bill. But because of continued GOP obstruction of everything, the bill will require 60 votes to break a filibuster.

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USA, Arkansas: Mark Pryor Endorses ENDA; One Democratic Senator Left

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Arkansas Senator Mark PryorNow that Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor (D) has endorsed the Employment non discrimination act, only one Democratic Senator is left standing against it.

The Washington Blade reports:

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin

Following Reid’s announcement, Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) signaled they’d support the legislation as Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) reportedly said he’s “inclined to support” the measure. Other targeted lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), continue to stay mum. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) expressed opposition to ENDA in its current form. Reid said during his routine weekly news conference on Tuesday that he feels “pretty good” about ENDA, but wasn’t more specific about the timing of the vote.

What’s it gonna take, Senator Manchin, to stand up for equality?

USA: 68% Support the Employment Non Discrimination Act

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Congress - Capitol BuildingA new poll shows more than two thirds of Americans support a bill that would offer employment protections to LGBT citizens.

SDGLN reports:

New polling by a prominent Republican pollster shows a supermajority of voters – 68%, including 56% of Republicans – support a federal law protecting gay and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on such a law – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) – in the coming weeks. Currently, there are no state laws prohibiting an employer from firing or refusing to hire someone simply because he or she is gay or transgender in a majority of states.

But does the bill have a chance in the GOP-controlled house?

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USA: Three Senate Dems Still on the Fence on ENDA

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Joe_Manchin_and_Mark_Pryor_and_Bill_Nelson_split_insert_public_domainThere are still three democratic US Senators who have not endorsed ENDA. The Washington Blade reports:

As LGBT advocates ramp up efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, some key U.S. senators this week said they’re still undecided on how they’ll vote on the bill. Most notable among these holdouts are three Senate Democrats who are not co-sponsors of ENDA — Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — even in the aftermath of a 15-7 Senate committee vote weeks ago reporting out ENDA to the floor. Manchin ignored questions from the Blade on how he’ll vote on the bill. His response to the final question: “It’s very nice to meet you.”

Not surprisingly, Manchin and Pryor also continue to oppose marriage equality.

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USA: New Map Shows Where You Can Be Fired for Being Gay

Monday, April 15th, 2013

A new map of the United States making the rounds shows the states where someone can be fired simply for being gay. But of course, it’s more complicated than that. Snopes reports:

USA: Fired for Being Gay

Some of those red states have laws which protect public (i.e. government) employee from sexual orientation discrimination (but not those who work in the private sector), some of those states have laws at county or city levels which protect employees in those local areas from such discrimination, and some of those states protect public employees from employment discrimination through means other than laws (e.g., executive orders, administrative orders, personnel regulations).

The Snopes article also includes a couple other maps that break down employment protections as a just across the country by state, and by county.

In related news, Towleroad reports that the Obama administration is moving very slowly on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Which would extend protection nationwide:

While Obama’s advisers tout his record on the issue, they make clear that an executive order on federal contractors soon is unlikely, arguing that it would carry far less weight than broader congressional action. Legislation called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) lacks enough votes to become law. “We want to continue to advocate for legislation. We think that that’s the most robust way to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told Reuters in an interview.

To be fair, such an action, although quick, could be easily undone the next time the presidency changes hands. Congressional action, though it seems unlikely right now, would be much harder to undo.

USA: Employment Non Discrimination Act to Be Reintroduced in April

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Colorado Representative Jared PolisOpenly gay Colorado representative Jared Polis plans to reintroduce ENDA in the house next month, Towleroad.com reports:

“I’ll be the lead author of ENDA, which we are at least planning to reintroduce in April,” Polis said. Multiple sources familiar with ENDA say the legislation is being reconsidered before its reintroduction in the 113th Congress, and maintain no final decisions on the bill have been made.

Maybe the new GOP outreach to gays means they’ll at least consider the bill this time around? Not holding my breath.