WASHINGTON — Senate MajorityLeader Harry Reid announced this week that he plans to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) up for a vote by Thanksgiving.
The bill, introduced earlier this year by Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, seeks to protect homosexuals and those who prefer to identify as the opposite gender in the workplace, and bars employers from discriminating based on sexuality and gender identity.
While discrimination is already illegal in most states, the act states that its purpose is “to address the history and persistent, widespread pattern of discrimination, including unconstitutional discrimination, on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity by private sector employers and local, state, and federal government employers.”
“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” it outlines.
The act also prohibits employers from attempting to “limit, segregate, or classify the employees or applicants for employment of the employer in any way that would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment or otherwise adversely affect the status of the individual as an employee, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
ENDA has 54 co-sponsors, but mainly across party lines. All but three Democratic senators have signed on to the measure, while only two Republicans–Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois–have become sponsors. Therefore, ENDA is expected to face a battle in the House of Representatives, which is largely Republican.
However, supporters of the bill say that some Republicans may be more apt to vote in favor of the measure since it now includes a religious exemption. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a Mormon like Reid, is behind the exemption, which simply states that the “Act shall not apply to a corporation, association, educational institution or institution of learning, or society that is exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
But some contend that ENDA still raises concern, not because its opponents believe in discrimination, but rather because it forces certain lifestyles to be accepted by employers against their will.
“ENDA isn’t about non-discrimination at all,” states writer Shaun Kenney. “It’s about force, and the use of government to obtain that force, to use against businesses whose personal values and ethics conflict with the values of the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU.”
“[A]t the end of the day it is not ‘tolerance’ that this movement requires, but rather acceptance—state-enforced, government-mandated, the bureaucratic imprimatur of a low-level functionary requirement to submit,” he asserted.
Writer Ernest Istook agreed.
“Experience has shown that the activists who push for ‘gender identity’ will keep pushing for more than mere tolerance,” he wrote in a Washington Times column entitled Senators and Sex: The ENDA Gender Identity Circus Comes to Washington. “We’ve seen that in the same-sex and abortion causes. Soldiers and others are being pressured to disavow their personal religious beliefs, as are bakers and wedding photographers. Doctors, nurses and pharmacists are threatened with loss of professional licenses if they don’t assist in abortions.”
“ENDA would turn voluntary sexual behavior into a protected civil right,” Istook said.