John Boehner Is Single-Handedly Killing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

A bill that would ensure protections for LGBTQ Americans in the workplace will not be brought to a vote in the House—all thanks to Speaker John Boehner. Analysis from AHA Legislative Associate Matthew Bulger.

It was a momentous occasion last week when the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), as members of both political parties finally came together to help make sure that LGBTQ Americans can work free from discrimination. For those of you who haven’t followed the bill and the heated debate surrounding it, the passage of ENDA will effectively prohibit discrimination in the workforce that occurs on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Unfortunately, due to an oversight in federal anti-discrimination law, 29 states currently permit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and 33 states permit discrimination based on gender identity according to the American Civil Liberties Union. ENDA was proposed in order to expand the federal laws that currently ban employment discrimination based on factors such as race and gender so that they also ban employment discrimination that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It is worth mentioning that there is an issue with the bill, namely that it exempts certain religious employers and businesses from abiding by its anti-discrimination provisions. It’s an issue that I’ve written about before for Humanist Network News, and it means that humanists are put in the difficult position of pushing for passage of this bill while informing legislators that exemptions from these laws only serve to hurt those that the bill would protect.

The problem is that the bill is now unlikely to pass because Speaker of the House John Boehner has expressed his opposition to moving it. The reason for this opposition according to Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel is that, “The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.”

This is absolute nonsense. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, a state which already bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, stated as much when he wrote this week in The Huffington Post about how “the Minnesota experience shows that those fears are unfounded. There has not been a flood of lawsuits, because the rights of LGBT Minnesotans are widely respected.” Once laws exist to ban discriminatory policies in the workforce, most employers who might have discriminated against LGBTQ Americans stop their bad behavior, which means that lawsuits aren’t necessary. Only those employers who refuse to abide by the law of the land need worry about legal repercussions, and I certainly wouldn’t label any lawsuits that result from that situation as “frivolous.”

As House Speaker, John Boehner has tremendous control over what bills can  be voted on, and his personal opposition to the bill all but guarantees that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act won’t even get a vote. Boehner has blocked votes before on bills he personally opposes, such as when he stopped the House from voting on a bill that would have re-opened the government during the recent shutdown.

I recognize that Speaker Boehner is unlikely to change his mind about opposing the bill, but he should break with his tradition of squashing bills he doesn’t like and allow a vote on ENDA. He doesn’t have to be a supporter of LGBTQ rights but he should be a supporter of democratic principles. Since there are likely enough votes in the House to pass ENDA he must get out of the way and let the will of the people do its work.

Tags: ,