Supported by an unprecedented number of their colleagues, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers today reintroduced a federal bill banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, saying that every American should have the equal right to be free from bias at their jobs.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, was reintroduced with 150 co-sponsors in the House, led by Republican Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut and Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. The Senate bill has 35 co-sponsors, led by Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, and Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
The number of co-sponsors in each house is the highest the bill has ever received, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped draft the legislation first introduced in 1976.
"We are closer than ever to getting this bill passed," said Matt Coles, director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "This legislation would protect all Americans, gay or straight, from being fired simply because of their sexual orientation. It is the right thing to do."
"This bill enjoys widespread popular support, the support of most lawmakers, and the endorsement of our President," Coles said. "Our only obstacle is a handful of fringe politicians who don't share America's vision of a free and equal society."
ENDA would add sexual orientation to the current list of federal employment protections that ban discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability. The bill would prohibit employers with more than 15 employees from using a person's sexual orientation in decisions such as firing, hiring, promotion or compensation.
Contrary to claims made by opponents, the bill would exempt religious organizations and the military, and would not establish preferential treatment or quotas.
Currently, it is perfectly legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation in 39 states. In the past month, Maine and New Hampshire joined California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin in outlawing sexual orientation discrimination.