Editor’s Note: This post was written by Kevin Callanan.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known ENDA, has had a long history of being introduced in the United States Congress through bipartisan attempts to limit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in some form in every Congress since 1994, though it has yet to be introduced in the current 114th Congress. That being said, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act most likely will not be reintroduced as the Equality Act of 2015 has been introduced. This act gives the LGBT community far more protections under the law than the Employment Non-Discrimination Act does, since the bill solely focuses on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.
The most recent attempt to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was in 2013, thus being named the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013. This act made the most progress in the Senate in the 113th Congress, where it was eventually passed by a final total of 64-32 votes, under title S. 815. The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and had 56 co-sponsors, most of whom came from the Democratic Party.
S. 815, the 2013 version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would “prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Currently, 21 states, including the District of Columbia, have laws on the book that make it illegal for current and potential employers to discriminate against an individual’s stated or perceived sexual orientation. Seventeen states, including the District of Columbia, have laws that prohibit current or potential employers from discriminating against employees’ gender identity. Had the law been passed, as similar anti-discrimination laws in mostly liberal states, such as in Connecticut and Massachusetts, have been passed, it would essentially give LGBT Americans full rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If passed the act would have been “landmark civil rights legislation” that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT individuals in the workplace on a federal level.
On April 25th, 2013, S.815 was introduced as a piece of legislation for the Senate to consider by Senator Merkely, the bill’s sponsor. It was then assigned to the appropriate committee, which was decided to be the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The primary reason why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced multiple times in the United States is because of the changing social factors in the United States and increased momentum of the LGBT rights movement. In fact, “70% of the Americans support LGBT anti-discrimination laws,” referring to all discrimination, not just in the workplace.
In addition to this, seven in ten Americans believe that members of the LGBT community face significant discrimination in their daily lives. The level of perceived discrimination against the LGBT community amongst the public is much higher than other marginalized groups, such as African-Americans, Latinos and women; each of which has federal legislation that protects their rights and prohibits discrimination against them in the workplace and other areas of life. Support among Americans for prohibiting discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans has also climbed since the introduction of the Employment Non-discrimination Bill in the United States Congress in 1994. At that time, support for banning discrimination among gay and lesbian Americans stood at 61%.
The Employment Non-Discrimination of 2013 lost all hope of passing in the 113th Congress once it passed the Senate and reached the U.S House of Representatives, falling into the hands of then Speaker of the House, John Boehner. On a personal level, Speaker Boehner believed that if the Employment Non-Discrimination Act were to pass the House and then be signed into law by President Obama, it would “increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.” Once the Employer Non-Discrimination Act reached the committees that the legislation pertains to, it was stated that the legislation would stay in the committee for a period of time determined by the Speaker, Boehner, essentially killing the bill in committee.
Although the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has failed time and time again, most recently in the House after finally passing the Senate in 2013, there is hope for LGBT people to enjoy the same rights other Americans enjoy in the workplace and elsewhere. In the last Congress, Congressional Democrats introduced the Equality Act of 2015, which not only gives LGBT people equality in the workplace, but amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, giving LGBT people the same rights as other protected minority groups.