A bipartisan group of 10 House lawmakers is calling on Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring up legislation banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
They have a tough road ahead of them: the Senate had not yet passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last month when Boehner signaled he opposed the bill — arguing that it would lead to a rash of frivolous lawsuits.
But as with legislation to overhaul the nation's immigration system, House Democrats are hopeful they can pressure GOP leadership to take action. Having rank and file Republicans in on the game, too, is also helpful as they try to make their case.
They aren't giving Boehner a tight deadline. Rather than demanding a vote by the year's end (with just six days left in the current legislative session), they want the bill to come to the floor before the conclusion of the 113th Congress.
"It is our hope that this legislation will be brought to the House floor — to allow the members to vote as they see fit — and demonstrate to the American people that Congress can work in a bipartisan manner on an important issue of fairness," the 10 lawmakers wrote. All are co-sponsors of the House's companion legislation to the Senate's version of ENDA.
Freshman Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Sean Patrick Maloney of New York led the effort to draft, circulate and submit the memo to Boehner.
"Americans deserve to be judged in the workplace by their job performance, not their sexual orientation," Sinema, who is bisexual, said in a statement. "I call on the House to ensure that all workers are treated the same by bringing ENDA to the House floor today."
Maloney, who is gay, added: "It's a disgrace that Speaker Boehner continues to put his own partisan politics ahead of the American people."
In addition to Sinema and Maloney, Rep. Jared Polis, a gay Colorado Democrat, also signed onto the letter, along with fellow Democrats Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Ron Kind of Wisconsin.
Republican co-signers include Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Richard Hanna of New York, Jon Runyan of New Jersey and Chris Gibson of New York.
When the Democrat-controlled House passed an iteration of ENDA in late 2007, 35 Republicans voted “yes.” Today, only 12 of those lawmakers remain in office, and only two of them, Dent and Ros-Lehtinen, are co-sponsors of the House’s ENDA bill. Runyan, Gibson and Hanna would be voting in favor of ENDA for the first time.
One senior Republican who voted for ENDA in 2007, and who might also be inclined to get on board in 2014, is Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.
“Congressman Ryan does not believe someone should be fired because of their sexual orientation,” said a Ryan spokesman in an email to CQ Roll Call. “That said, any legislation to address this concern should be narrowly crafted to guard against unintended consequence.”
The full text of the letter is below:
On 7 November 2013, the United States Senate passed S. 815, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA) by a bipartisan vote of 64 to 32. As cosponsors of H.R. 1755 – the House’s companion legislation, we respectfully encourage you to bring this timely and commonsense legislation to a vote before the House of Representatives before the end of the 113th Congress.
An innate sense of fairness compels our country to rise above all forms of workplace discrimination. ENDA would help us move towards this goal in a manner that balances worker protections with respect for religious employers. Keeping with the notion that employees should be judged on their merits alone, the bill explicitly prohibits preferential treatment or hiring quotas. We are not seeking special privileges – just equal protections.
Job discrimination against any American creates an uneven playing field that runs contrary to the basic notion of equality and our economic efficiency. What matters most is not that we share the exact same beliefs as our coworkers or employees, but that we take pride in our work, respect our coworkers and customers, and get the job done.
It is our hope that this legislation will be brought to the House Floor – to allow the members to vote as they see fit – and demonstrate to the American people that Congress can work in a bipartisan manner on an important issue of fairness.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA-15)
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-27)
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9)
Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY-22)
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO-2)
Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ-3)
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5)
Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY-19)
Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3)