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By Lisa Keen
An inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act is now on the move in the U.S. Senate. Long-time sponsor Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced the bill on Aug. 5 along with Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
The Human Rights Campaign launched a lobby effort today to muster support for the legislation, asking supporters to send e-mails to their senators urging their support. (www.passendanow.org) The e-mail notes that in 29 states, there is no law to prevent an employer from firing someone because he or she is gay and, in 38 states, no law to prohibit an employer from firing someone for being transgender.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the first national gay political organization to push for a federal law to prohibit job discrimination against gays, in 1974, said it hopes the stated support of President Obama will “play a role in assisting with (the bill’s) swift passage in both the House and the Senate.”
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is the lead sponsor of the ENDA bill introduced in the House in June, said he is optimistic about its chances of passing that chamber. But he expressed less optimism about reaching a new political threshold of 60 votes in the Senate. The bill needs only 51 votes to pass, but the Democratic majority has sought to ensure 60 votes before bringing legislation to the floor in order, they say, to ward off any filibuster attempts.
A form of ENDA without gender identity protection passed the House in the last session of Congress but engendered so much opposition for omitting gender identity that it was never brought up in the Senate.
The ENDA bills introduced in the House and Senate this year both seek to prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Current federal law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability.
Kennedy, who has being undergoing treatment for brain cancer since last year, was not in Washington for introduction of the bill but has been working on bills from his home in Massachusetts. He issued a statement saying, “The promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act brings us closer to fulfilling that promise for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens.”