JUNE 20, 2013
The Supreme Court is expected to make a historic ruling on the marriage rights of same-sex couples any day now. As a longtime advocate for marriage equality, I hope the Court will do the right thing and rule same-sex marriage a constitutionally protected fundamental right because all Americans deserve to be treated equally under the law. While this matter of equal protection is up to the court, there is another civil protection that is now up to Congress: the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
I am an original co-sponsor of ENDA, which would extend the federal nondiscrimination employment protections, now granted to women and racial minorities, to LGBT employees across the country. This year my colleagues and I fought for the rights of LGBT women to be protected by the Violence Against Women Act and secured its passage. I co-sponsored the Student Non-Discrimination Act to protect against bullying or discrimination based on sexual orientation. And I joined my colleagues in filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. All of these are huge, critical steps toward ensuring equal treatment to LGBT men, women, and youth.
Today, I call on Speaker Boehner to allow the Congress to take another critical vote on ENDA, and I urge my colleagues to pass ENDA now.
According to a UCLA study, shamefully, almost half of openly gay and bisexual employees have experienced some form of discrimination at work and nearly 80 percent of transgender Americans report the same. While California has a law that makes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity illegal, there are still 29 states that don’t. In those states without LGBT employment nondiscrimination laws, talented, loyal, hardworking employees can actually be fired just because their employer doesn’t approve of their personal lives. And it is not at all uncommon for qualified LGBT candidates to be routinely passed over for positions because of no other reason than the person they love. This is unacceptable and un-American.
In March, after the hearing on Prop. 8’s constitutionality, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy highlighted the 40,000 California children who want full marriage status for their parents. I can only imagine those same children also want for their parents to enjoy tolerance and security at work.
ENDA, modeled on the Civil Rights Act, is the answer to these concerns. Once passed, LGBT Americans nationwide would be protected from discrimination in the workplace. ENDA was first introduced in Congress 19 years ago, but has yet to see real movement. However, the number of supporters has increased each year, including 175 sponsors in the House this term.
Also, ENDA is good for business. The bill, introduced by Rep. Jared Polis, would boost our nation’s competitiveness by ensuring talented people are given every chance to contribute to the workforce. Successful American companies agree; a majority of Fortune 500 companies has already implemented anti-discrimination policies. Locally, Qualcomm has set an excellent example by becoming a member of the Human Rights Campaign’s anti-discrimination Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness.
We cannot allow politics to hold this back any longer, and ENDA has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. In fact, ENDA is such common-sense legislation that a majority of Americans believe it is already law and nearly three-quarters of Americans are in favor of the bill’s passage. It is time to listen to these voices.
I will continue to fight in Congress for marriage equality and workplace nondiscrimination, as I have throughout my career in public service. Rewarding talented, hardworking people, and providing equal protection under the law, are fundamental American ideals. Passing ENDA is an important step toward living up to them.
Peters represents California’s 52nd Congressional District. He is a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and is a past board member of The Center, San Diego’s LGBT Community Center.