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Lasting discrimination

Benjamin Rossi | Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Senate will spend most of this week debating the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban employers from firing, refusing to hire or discriminating against workers or job applicants based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill would close the protection gap that still exists in 29 states that don’t have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Similar bills have been introduced in every Congress since 1994, but despite overwhelming public support this time around – majorities in all 50 states endorse ENDA-like legislation – the bill is likely to die at the doors of the House.

Republican congressmen claim the law is unnecessary because existing federal statues and private companies already prohibit workplace discrimination and because such legislation will encourage “frivolous” litigation and discourage job growth.

Both claims are false. No existing federal statutes explicitly protect members of the LGBTQ community. In fact, in recent rulings the Supreme Court expressly excluded sexual orientation and gender identity from protection under existing statutes. And while many private businesses and institutions do extend protections, some – including Notre Dame – exclude sexual orientation and gender identity from their non-discrimination policies.

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that states with laws similar to ENDA have not seen a noticeable increase in litigation based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Moreover, while supposed economic harm has always been put forward as reason not to advance the cause of equal justice for all, no lawmaker should be in the business of putting a price on human dignity.

While 87 percent of Americans believe it’s illegal to fire someone on the basis of his sexual orientation, the shocking truth is that members of the LGBTQ community are not afforded the same basic protections against bigotry in the workplace as other minority groups. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers in thrall to what Jerry Falwell called the “Moral Majority” – actually a dwindling right-wing minority represented by powerful lobbying groups – seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo. Ultimately, they cannot reverse the tide of change. But they should not even be permitted to try.

Benjamin Rossi  
graduate student
Nov. 6