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Gay Marriage Supporters Turn Focus to ENDA

Baldwin and Merkley were among those signing on to a statement calling for additional action on gay rights. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Having achieved marriage equality in Friday's landmark Supreme Court decision, supporters of gay rights are making clear there's still much work to do, including on employment discrimination.  

"In dozens of states, a couple can marry in the morning, announce their union in the afternoon, yet lose their jobs or be evicted from their apartment by the day’s end. Just as we needed Congress to pass legislation to fully realize the promise of previous Supreme Court decisions recognizing fundamental civil rights, Congress must act to fully realize the promise of today's ruling by introducing and passing legislation to finally provide comprehensive federal non-discrimination protections to LGBT Americans," said a broad coalition of civil rights groups and lawmakers, including Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Cory Booker of New Jersey.  

"Discrimination has no place in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit, federal funding, or jury service, just as it has no place in marriage," they said. "We are committed to adding protections for LGBT Americans to federal anti-discrimination laws."  

Democratic Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and John Lewis of Georgia also signed on.  

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., told CQ Roll Call that a logical next step would be to move forward with legislation known as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA).  

"Congress needs to get its act together. We need to pass employment nondiscrimination immediately, which would provide basic workplace protections for people on the basis of who they love, and that is fundamental," Maloney said. "That is an enormous piece of unfinished business that we should get to work on right away."  

Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton echoed Maloney's sentiment in a statement, also seeking to ensure that Congress stays out of the way of non-discrimination measures within her home District of Columbia.  

"Today’s decision for same-sex marriage is so unequivocal that it should encourage further action that is much-needed for full equality for the LGBTQ community. The Congress should begin right now by rejecting any attempt that may still be coming to overturn the D.C. Human Rights Amendment Act, which repealed a congressionally imposed provision that allowed schools in D.C. to deny LGBT students equal access to school facilities and services," Norton said.  

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, meanwhile, focused her attention on the Department of Veterans Affairs. The New Hampshire Democrat has previously introduced legislation to direct the VA to extend benefits to same-sex couples in states that had not granted recognition to gay marriages, legislation known as the Charlie Morgan Act.  

"I am urging the VA to act as quickly as possible to implement the spirit of the Court's decision, and ensure that all veterans' benefits are awarded to eligible same-sex families," Shaheen wrote in a new letter to Secretary Robert McDonald. "We have an opportunity to finally honor the service of so many men and woman who have fought to protect the very same freedoms they are now denied as civilians, including my friend Charlie Morgan."  

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also pointed to the need for additional action by both the executive and legislative branches.  

"While today we celebrate this momentous step forward for equality, we know our work is not yet finished. We must continue fighting discrimination against LGBT Americans and all other communities. The arc of history is bending a little further toward justice today, but our work to create a more perfect union, with equality and justice for all, continues," Brown said.  

For opponents of the 5-4 decision handed down by the Supreme Court Friday, the question is whether to focus on protections for religious organizations or to mount a new campaign at overturning the decision through constitutional amendment. For Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., it will be the former.  

"[G]iven the quickly changing tide of public opinion on this issue, I do not believe that an attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution could possibly gain the support of three-fourths of the states or a supermajority in the U.S. Congress. Rather than pursing a divisive effort that would be doomed to fail, I am committing myself to ensuring the protection of religious liberties of all Americans," Graham said in a statement issued through his presidential campaign. "No person of faith should ever be forced by the federal government to take action that goes against his or her conscience or the tenets of their religion."