The U.S. Senate voted in favor of a bill entitled Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on Nov. 7, which prohibits employers from making employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promoting or compensating an employee, based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This bill extends workplace protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees.
In a televised speech, President Barack Obama supported the passage of the bill in the Senate, but called for further action. “Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it,” he said. “I urge the House Republican leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote and send it to my desk so I can sign it into law. On that day, our nation will take another historic step toward fulfilling the founding ideals that define us as Americans.”
The legislation passed the Senate chamber with a 64-32 vote and garnered mild bipartisan support. A total of 52 Democrats, 10 Republicans and two independents — who caucus with the Democrats — voted in support of the bill. But the bill may not be brought up on the House floor until next year.
As a vocal opponent of the bill, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said the bill “raises serious concerns” by infringing on religious freedoms of business owners. “The so-called protections from religious liberty in this bill are vaguely defined and do not extend to all organizations that wish to adhere to their moral or religious beliefs in their hiring practices,” he stated.
The bill currently does not apply to churches, along with businesses or institutions with religious affiliations, such as universities and hospitals. There are still 29 states where employers may take into account an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity as part of workplace practices.
ENDA first appeared on the House floor in 1994, but never achieved successful passage through both chambers due to conflicting religious beliefs on the rights of LGBT individuals. According to a national pro-LGBT group, the Human Rights Campaign, ENDA will affect over 16 million Americans in today’s workforce, if passed into law.
In a press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “Listen, I am opposed to discrimination of any kind — in the workplace and anyplace else.” Boehner added, “But I think this legislation … is unnecessary and would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits. People are already protected in the workplace. I am opposed to continuing this.”
Some UC Riverside students, such as third-year creative writing major Armando Cardenas, are supportive of the bill and also believe in an individual’s right to exercise religious freedom.
“Some people might feel like they have to compromise religious beliefs or values in order to comply with the law. That itself can turn into a problem as well,” Cardenas said.
Third-year business major Elena Thomas says an individual’s private affairs should remain separate from how they behave in the workplace. “It’s a basic human right to love who you want,” she said. “No one should be discriminated against because of what they do in their private lives. Who you love doesn’t affect how you operate in a work setting.” She hopes that the bill will one day see a swift passage through the U.S. House of Representatives.