Job discrimination, for any reason, is un-American, unfair, and unwise. Our nation’s economic success depends on having the most qualified, dedicated, and competent people as part of the workforce. Further, this issue goes to the core of what it means to be in a free society. Freedom depends on people having the opportunity to pursue any career they wish. Yet, hundreds of thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans fear that they may lose their jobs based solely upon their sexual orientation or gender identity. A study led by the Williams Institute in 2008 found that one in five LGBT public sector employees has experienced workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; further, a study done this year found that 13% had reported such discrimination in the past year alone.
In addition, workplace discrimination is also manifested in the persistent and significant wage gap that exists between heterosexual and LGBT employees. The Williams Institute study found that government LGBT employees earn wages that are 8-29% lower than their heterosexual counterparts.
However, there has been important progress in recent years to make the workplace friendlier for gay and lesbian Americans. Studies report that among the Fortune 500, 423 companies (85%) have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. Even Wal-Mart, which defines conservative old-fashioned American values, now offers protection for its gay and lesbian employees.
There is good news among corporate America, but more progress must be made. There is currently no federal law providing gay and lesbian Americans recourse if they are fired based on their sexual orientation. This reality shows why it is so important for the nation’s political leaders to enact The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This congressional legislation, with sponsors in both political parties, would prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation-providing basic fairness for millions of hardworking Americans.
ENDA’s opponents often use three arguments to justify their position:
1. ENDA would provide “special rights” for gay and lesbian Americans.
Not true. ENDA clearly prohibits quotas and preferential treatment for gays and lesbians. The law creates no “special rights,” rather it provides gay and lesbian workers with the same employment protection enjoyed by all other Americans. Furthermore, ENDA does not require employers to provide benefits for the same-sex partners of their employees. It also exempts small businesses, religious organizations, and the military.
2. This bill would cause a flurry of lawsuits against corporate America.
False. Twemty states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Many of these laws have a much wider scope than ENDA, including not just workplace discrimination, but also housing and public accommodation. Even so, research shows that these state laws have NOT led to a flurry of lawsuits. A 2000 General Accounting Office report says there is, “no indication that these laws have generated a significant amount of litigation.”
3. This issue should be left to the discretion of each state.
For the last five decades, the federal government has rightly taken a more active role in protecting the civil rights of every American, regardless of what state they call home. As a Republican organization, we appreciate the importance of state autonomy, however in matters of personal freedom and civil rights, the federal government must play a large part in guaranteeing fairness and equality for all citizens. The Jim Crow laws of the old segregated South ended in large part due to federal court action and congressional legislation. The federal government must protect the civil rights of every American. States rights can’t be used to justify discrimination and bigotry.
This Employment Non-Discrimination Act has strong public support. A recent Gallup poll shows that 85% of Americans favor equal opportunity for gays and lesbians in the workplace. The American people understand this all comes down to fairness. ENDA should become law because it’s the right thing to do. With committed support from both sides of the aisle, ENDA can offer important protection for millions of Americans.