Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Need for ENDA

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC)

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) is probably not someone that you have ever heard of; I follow politics religiously and even I had to look up to see when he joined the House (for the record, he’s a freshman member).  That being said, Pittenger certainly is someone you’ll have heard of now after his comments at a recent town hall meeting near Charlotte became public.

Pittenger’s exact words (let’s not misinterpret here!) were, in regard to whether it should be legal to fire LGBT workers, “you need to respect the autonomy of somebody running their business.  It’s like smoking bans.  Do you ban smoking or do people have the right to private property?  I think people have the right to private property.  In public spaces, absolutely, we can have smoking bans.  But we don’t want to micromanage people’s lives and business.  If you have a business, do you want to government to come in and tell you you need to hire somebody?  Why should government be there to impose on the freedoms we enjoy?”

First, everyone reading, just take a moment to breathe.  After all, it’s infuriating and we all probably just shouted at our screens.  Now, take in the fact that what Pittenger said could just as easily have been about any group of people and worked with his “logic.”  Gender, age, race-this line of thinking could attack any of these groups, though you surely won’t hear Pittenger saying the same thing when it comes to a larger group since it would have a true impact on his reelection chances (for the record, he’s running unopposed).

A lot has been said in recent months about where the gay rights movement will go when it comes to its direction in upcoming years.  Every day it seems as if yet another state has legalized gay marriage or another court case has struck down a ban.  The entire battle seems certain to head to the Supreme Court, and provided the current makeup of the bench stays the same, a major legislative battle will be issued for all Americans in the pro-same sex marriage column.  But as comments like Pittenger’s make clear, that’s not the end of the fight.  There are a number of other battles still waging before Congress and state legislatures’ and one of them is the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (aka ENDA).

ENDA passed with 61 votes in the United States Senate earlier this year in a remarkable victory for gay rights activists (this is particularly impressive considering that both Sens. Claire McCaskill and Lisa Murkowski, two allies of the bill, were unable to vote on the legislation).  The bill has 205 cosponsors in the House (it will surprise no one that Pittenger is not amongst them), and really its best and perhaps only shot to make it through Congress for a few years is about to slip through our fingers because they’re thirteen votes shy.  It’s worth noting that if the Democrats could get six of their own caucus to sponsor the bill they would be halfway there (Reps. Pete Gallego (TX), Mike McIntyre (NC), Dan Lipinski (IL), Gene Green (TX), and Nick Rahall (WV) are all missing from the list), but none of them seem particularly likely to endorse the bill though Green has come out in favor of the bill, just not as a sponsor (as I’ve pointed out multiple times, Dan Lipinski would be a very smart primary target considering he is in a district the President won twice and is oddly mismatched with his national party for such an entrenched incumbent-the rest are all in relatively conservative districts).

However, coming in seven votes shy, particularly on a bill many Republicans (and some Democrats) don’t want to be on record for is a tough sell and ENDA is probably dead in this Congress.  Still, it goes to show that while the marriage battle may soon be over, the gay rights movement soldiers on with legislation like ENDA (and overturning discriminatory housing, adoption, and education practices) still needing to be passed.

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