The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on November 21, 2007. This is the first time that either the House or the Senate has passed a gay employment rights bill since they were first introduced in 1974.
The passage of this bill makes it more likely that a law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation will be passed in 2008 or 2009.
In a vote of 235 to 184, with 35 Republicans and 200 Democrats voting “yea,” the bill passed by a margin of 51 votes. In all, 159 Republicans and 25 Democrats voted against the bill, with 8 Democrats and 6 Republicans abstaining.
ENDA, as currently worded, would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee. An earlier motion to kill the bill by sending it back to committee was defeated by a margin of 222 to 198.
Although ENDA has passed the house, no similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. The Senate would have to pass the bill, and the president sign it or have a veto overridden, for the bill to become law.
ENDA would make it illegal for employers 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.”
In a compromise measure, the law exempts the U.S. military, churches and religious institutions, and employers with 15 or fewer workers from the measure.
“This is truly an historic day,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California. “As someone who has looked forward to this day for the 20 years I have served in Congress, it is a joyous occasion.”
In late September, Pelosi and other House Democrats said that there simply was not enough support to pass a version of the bill that included transsexuals. In a controversial move, the House Committee decided to remove transsexuals from the bill.
Congressman Barney Frank, chief author of ENDA, quickly introduced a new version of the bill and promised to sponsor separate legislation to protect the rights of transgendered workers, when support was available.
This action caused about 350 gay and transgender advocacy groups nationwide to send a joint letter demanding that House members oppose the new bill. Behind the scenes wrangling among House Democrats over how to respond to the transgender question prompted Pelosi to delay a vote on ENDA for more than a month.
During the House debate over ENDA Wednesday, nearly all of the Democrats who spoke in support of the bill also expressed strong support for the nation’s transgender citizens and their right to be protected from employment discrimination.
“We recognize that transgender people, like all people, deserve protections from discrimination,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado.
In a symbolic gesture, Baldwin introduced an amendment to restore protection for transgendered workers to the bill, but withdrew it without asking for a vote.
“Some people have asked why I insisted on bringing an amendment to the floor, only to withdraw it without a vote,” Baldwin said in a statement. “The reason is simple. Those left behind by this bill deserve to hear, on the floor of the House, that they are not forgotten, and our job will not be finished until they, too, share fully in the American dream.”
“While ENDA’s victory will represent an important victory, I share the disappointment of Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank and others who support including protections for transgender individuals in ENDA,” said Pelosi in a speech on the House floor.
“While I had hoped we could have included gender identity, I support final passage of ENDA because its passage will build momentum for further advances on gender identity rights and the rights of all Americans.”