Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"It's Pretty Basic."

On Monday, we looked at the prospect of Congress doing something productive for a change. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) vowed a Senate floor vote on ENDA (the Employment Nondiscrimination Act) next month. And today, he's a few steps closer to that goal.

ENDA already had 53 cosponsors going into this week. But now, that number is up to 54 as Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) signed onto the bill. And on top of that, ENDA will gain another cosponsor as soon as Senator-elect Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) is sworn in.

In addition, more Senators have announced support for ENDA or at least openness to considering it. The two remaining Democratic holdouts, Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), recently announced their support. And Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) just said he's "inclined to support" ENDA. And that's not all.

The Washington Post suggests several other Republicans who have previously supported LGBT rights, including Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Though Flake previously supported ENDA in 2007, he now believes the latest version “will increase the potential for litigation and compliance costs.” This belief contradicts ample evidence showing that businesses of all sizesbenefit from nondiscrimination protections. Flake told the Washington Blade that he also opposes the inclusion of transgender protections, which had been stripped from the 2007 House bill he voted for.

One Senator who it seems will not be voting for ENDA is John McCain (R-AZ). Despite lobbying from his own wife, McCain seems to still be concernedabout “whether it imposes quota, whether it has reverse discrimination, whether it has the kinds of provisions that really preserve equal rights for all citizens.” He went on to draw an odd comparison between ENDA and thedesegregation busing that attempted to break down racial lines after schools were integrated.

Despite McCain’s claims, the bill expressly prohibits preferential treatment, quotas, or any kind of retaliation against people who oppose its provisions. It’s quite unclear who would be bused where if LGBT people were simply protected in the jobs they already have.

Sadly, it's not all good news. Many Republicans remain strongly opposed to workplace equality. Never mind the evidence showing workplace discrimination to be an economic loser, the usual G-O-TEA suspects just can't let go of their H8.

Why is this? As we discussed yesterday, far too many Republicans are following the lead of the 21st Century Know Nothings. And in a column for The Hill, Marge Baker explained just how far they're going to try to kill ENDA.

Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber said earlier this month that ENDA would be used to protect child predators. Former Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt warned last month that if ENDA passes, Christians could face bankruptcy or even starvation. American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer has shared his outrageous – not to mention bizarre – belief that “ENDA would represent the return of Jim Crow laws.” And Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver may have taken the cake with his prediction that ENDA could result in the “death of some individuals.”

That’s quite a frenzy over a law that would simply protect LGBT Americans from workplace discrimination. And as more and more conservative Americans embrace workplace protections for all, these far-right voices get even fringier.

But some in the GOP are resisting these far-right voices and standing up for decency. This summer three Republican senatorsjoined their Democratic counterparts in a bipartisan vote that moved ENDA out of committee. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski put it simply: “No discrimination against anyone at any time — it's pretty basic.”

It is pretty basic. And since the Senate is expected to vote on ENDA before Thanksgiving, it’s time for senators to ask themselves whether they are going to stand on the side of fringe extremists spouting wild predictions and warning that the sky is falling or on the side of basic fairness and common sense.

We can only wonder if Senator Heller is asking himself this. Perhaps he is, considering that he's not slamming the door on ENDA (just yet?).

It is pretty basic. This is about ensuring equal treatment under the law for all American workers. No really, that's all.

While it's frustrating that it's taken this long for ENDA to near 60 Senate votes for passage, at least we're finally approaching it now. The only question is if more in Congress (including those Republicans on the House side) can recognize something so basic.

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