The Obama administration strongly
endorsed Senator Jeff Merkley's gay protections bill at its first
hearing on Capitol Hill.
“It is a privilege to testify here
today and to voice the Obama administration's strong support for
fully-inclusive legislation that prohibits discrimination on the
basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Assistant
Attorney General of the Civil Right Division Tom Perez told members
of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) on
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act
(ENDA) would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation and gender identity (transgender protections).
Massachusetts Representative Barney
Frank introduced the House version of ENDA in July. In August two
Democratic Senators – the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy
and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley – and two Republican Senators –
Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine introduced the Senate
Both versions of the bill have been
reworked, adding back transgender protections removed from last
year's bill. Gay rights groups warned politicos last year that they
would not support a gay-only protections bill. Despite the bill
being watered down, it fizzled in the Senate after the House approved
“We do oppose ENDA,” Craig
Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel of the National
Religious Broadcasters, testified. “ENDA … would impose a
substantial unconstitutional burden on religious organizations and
would interfere with their effectiveness in terms of pursuing their
Parshall argued that ENDA's religious
exemptions were simply not strong enough.
“Let's say if ENDA is passed and we
have a Christian bookstore as an example that decides they do not
want to hire a homosexual, the courts will most likely decide that
the decision was really not based on the job applicant's religion but
on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and as a result
no exemption will be proved to be effective.”
Mike Carney testified about his
experience as a gay cop in Massachusetts, a state that bans
employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“I'm a good cop,” Carney said.
“But I lost 2.5 years of my employment fighting to get my job back
because I'm gay.”
“Workplace discrimination impacts the
lives of everyone, it deprives people of jobs and safe working
conditions, it robs the federal government of an exceptional pool of
specialists, and it robs our citizens of the services that they would
have received from talented, dedicated gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender workers,” he said.
Also testifying at the nearly 3-hour
long hearing was the attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, and
a representative from shoe giant Nike. Both said they support the
The bill has a good chance at passage
this year. In the Senate, it has attracted 41 co-sponsors, and at
least 8 senators have expressed support for the bill. Based on their
votes for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act that was approved last
month, another 12 senators appear likely to be in favor of the
measure. The bill enjoys overwhelming support in the House.