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It’s Time to Pass ENDA

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[Editor’s note: The Employee Non-Discrimination Act (S.815) will have a hearing in the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions this Wednesday at 6am Alaska time. For this week’s On Politics, I cede the floor to Tony Wagner of HRC.   -john]
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has made significant strides in recent years as the national conversation about equality has been debated even at the most conservative kitchen tables. With all the recent success, we mustn’t forget that we have a long way to go before all LGBT people are treated equally under the law nationwide.
The passage of hate crimes legislation, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and recent Supreme Court rulings in favor of marriage equality are clear signs that America is moving toward equality at the federal level, and many states and municipalities have also taken action to ensure all their residents are protected equally. Yet in 29 states – including Alaska – a person can still be fired solely because of their sexual orientation, and in 33 states someone can be fired solely because of their gender identity. That’s why, on behalf of more than 5,000 Human Rights Campaign supporters in Alaska, we are asking Sen. Lisa Murkowski to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
In an article that Sen. Murkowski published this month, she described a lesbian couple and their children as a “first-class Alaskan family [that] still lives in a second class existence.” This shouldn’t be, and the senator recognizes that. Whether by her votes on the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and HIV/AIDS funding, or her personal vote for Anchorage’s Prop 5 municipal nondiscrimination ordinance and recent support for marriage equality, Sen. Murkowski has stood for freedom and fairness time and again. We ask her to stand for fairness once more and co-sponsor ENDA alongside Sen. Mark Begich and 53 of her senate colleagues. Here’s why:
Nearly 90% of Americans believe that LGBT individuals should be treated equally in the workplace. People of all stripes know that employment decisions should be based on a person’s job performance and work ethic. Passing this law will not prevent employers from firing incompetent or lazy workers, but will simply provide a workplace environment in which all hardworking Americans can succeed without unfounded bias or discrimination.
America’s business community recognizes that workers should be judged on the merits. 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their equal employment policies, and 57 percent include gender identity. A recent construction workplace lawsuit winner mentioned that the judges are harsh on employers who base someone’s ability to do a job around their sexual orientation. He mentioned, “We used Alpine for our crane expert witness, and I was overjoyed when the judge saw the injustice in the situation and ruled in my favor – it was only right.” While an increasing number of American businesses have begun to address workplace equality for LGBT employees, we need to ensure that there is a federal standard to treat all employees the same from state to state.
Opponents claim there will be a rash of lawsuits, that it would hurt small business and infringe upon religious freedoms. None of these claims is true. Based on data collected in states where similar laws have been passed, any increase in caseload is negligible, and ENDA does not apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees. Additionally, there are explicit and broad exemptions for religious organizations provided in the legislation.
Lastly, ENDA does not create “special rights” for LGBT Americans, as the right to work is necessary for all Americans. We already have civil rights laws protecting against discrimination based on race, religion, and disability, among other factors. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act simply puts LGBT Americans on the same footing as all other Americans.
As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, Sen. Murkowski will be one of the first legislators to take a vote on ENDA before it goes to the entire Senate for consideration. Human Rights Campaign urges Sen. Murkowski to support and co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and continue her longstanding support for freedom and fairness.