Last week, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was pushed through the US House of Representatives en-route to the Senate (and assured veto by President Bush). The bill’s goal is to ensure that sexual orientation cannot be used to exempt anyone from employment. But some inland lawmakers aren’t interested in ensuring that equality remains the standard that America strives for.
The bill that passed the US House last week was just one incarnation of a bill that was originally introduced to the House in 1972, on the fifth anniversary of The Stonewall Rebellion, by then-New York congressmen Bella Abzug and Ed Koch, which would have added “sexual orientation” to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But without success by the early ’90s, the nature of politics urged a change in strategy and, instead of trying to get all the specifics granted by the Civil Rights Act, legislators would instead focus on employment issues. The former “Equality Act” became the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and after it’s introduction to the Senate in 1996, it failed to pass by only one vote. The House did not vote on the bill that year.
The ENDA legislation originally sought equality assurance for gender identity along with sexual orientation, but as the bill entered various House committees, it became clear that a bill that included the language pertaining to gender identity wouldn’t pass a house vote. The bill was stripped of its controversial gender identity protections. It went on to pass, with only 57% of the house in favor of passing Federal protection from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Opponents of the ENDA legislation cite a litany of talking-point counter-arguments against it, ranging from the burden that such a law would place on small businesses—ENDA exempts small businesses—to its long reach into the sacred halls of religion—ENDA exempts religious organizations. Some also argue that the bill is paving the way for an endless flood of nuisance litigation against businesses, even though the US Chamber Of Commerce endorses it.
Curiously enough, 35 Republicans crossed over and voted primarily with Democrats to pass the bill and two of them—David Dreier and Mary Bono—hail from the Inland Empire. Bono has publicly stated her position on the legislation for a long time and has “consistently opposed discrimination of any kind,” which seems like a very deliberate choice of words considering the voting records of the four other Republicans that serve as IE reps.
IE Weekly earnestly tried to get a hold of the four other Republican IE reps to ask them about their votes on ENDA but only one bothered to call us back. Redland’s congressman Jerry Lewis’s office said that the congressman was not “convinced that the legislation protects small businesses and churches against nuisance lawsuits,” and referred to ENDA as a “redundant piece of legislation.” The redundancy may be due to the fact that some states—like California—already have laws in place protecting employees from being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, but the majority of states do not.
When we brought up the small business and church exemptions and the US Chamber Of Commerce endorsement on the bill, we got the abridged version of the exact same answer.