The month of November is not even one-third gone, and the news of LGBT acceptance across the country has been amazing:
- Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), candidate for the state’s governor, came out as gay after his opposition started a “whisper” smear campaign about his sexual orientation.
- Across the country, 54 LGBT candidates won, including the candidates for mayors of Houston and Seattle.
- Shortly after his Tuesday win for Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe pledged to ban discrimination against LGBT state employees.
- A federal judge upheld New Jersey’s law banning gay conversion therapy for minors, and Washington, D.C. is working on a similar law.
The most publicized movement toward LGBT rights in the past week was the Senate passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for the first time in 17 years. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) first introduced ENDA in the Senate two years earlier. Before he died in 2009, he asked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)—one of my senators!—to continue the effort.
Thirty-two GOP senators opposed the bill that could end employment discrimination in the 60 percent of the states that can legally discriminate against LGBT workers. Ten other Republicans voted in favor of the proposed law, and three GOP senators failed to vote. ENDA adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the job-protected categories of age, disability, gender, race, and religion.
Some House Republicans such as Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) are smart enough to know that the GOP needs to show more tolerance. He would be willing to support the law, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has promised to keep the bill from a vote in that chamber.
“No one should face discrimination in the workforce,” Boehner claimed in April when he asserted that LGBT people are already protected in their jobs:
“There are ample laws already in place to deal with this. Having been the chairman of the Education & Workforce Committee, I’m quite familiar with employment law.”
The majority of voters support legislation that protects LGBT workers from discrimination. Polls also show that many people wrongly believe that laws protect LGBT people on the job. No federal law or regulation prevents employers from firing LGBT workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Firing or discriminating against LGBT people is legal in 29 states; firing or discriminating against transgender people is legal in 33 states. You can look at your state laws here. Below is a map showing support for a law that Boehner refuses to take to the House.
Jonathan Pacheco and his boyfriend couldn’t even shop at Walmart in Chickasha (OK). An employee, identified as a janitor, told them, “It is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” before telling the two men that they weren’t allowed to be in the store.
Pundits have made very strange objections to ENDA:
ENDA is unprincipled and confers special rights. So wrote Ryan T. Anderson in a National Review op-ed that rambled through bigoted excuses ending with the problem of bathrooms, used a half century ago when discussing the Equal Rights Amendment.
ENDA is unnecessary and unpopular. So wrote Ralph Reed in USA Today when he talked about the bill “violating an employee’s right to privacy.” He concluded, “The number of discrimination actions in states that prohibit hiring decisions based on sexual preference is miniscule [sic], suggesting it doesn’t require federal policing.” Actually, between 15 and 43 percent of LGB people have experienced workplace discrimination or harassment, and between 8 and 17 percent have been hired or fired due to their sexual orientation. Up to 41 percent of LGB employees have experienced anti-gay harassment or abuse in the workplace. That number soars up to 90 percent for trans people.
ENDA will make gay people boring. So wrote Patrick Howley in the Daily Caller after he described his own possible homosexuality in a several hundred words. He then sneered at LGBT people and described ENDA as “another anti-business piece of legislation that allows self-identified cultural victims to sue their employers after they get fired.”
The newest right is approaching in Hawaii. Despite far-right protests, the Senate passed a marriage equality bill. An amended bill passed in the House will return to the Senate. If the Senate passes the amended bill, the governor has promised to sign it. Ironically, the possibility of Hawaii legalizing same-sex marriage 20 years ago goaded Congress into passing DOMA, which was the law of the land for 17 years until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of it last June. Hawaii’s governor Neil Abercrombie used the SCOTUS decision to make marriage equality in the state a priority to give same-sex couples federal rights.
The Senate opened up its hearing to over 1,000 public comments.Over 5,000 people signed up to address the bill in the House, many of them to delay the vote. IDs were required after people testified on behalf of others and used fake names to get more than one turn. Some people tried to use proxies in an attempt to make the testimony against the bill overwhelming, causing the House to make new rules. Only people with a valid registration number and ID can speak to a bill.
Hawaii police union president Tenari Maafala, an active duty officer, told legislators they would have to “kill” him before he would ever enforce same-sex marriage. He added that denying gay couples the right to marry is not discrimination if it’s against one’s beliefs.
Some Hawaiians tearfully claimed that legalized same-sex marriages would destroy their culture. Historians, however, said that the island did not have the modern marriage before European settlement and that the native people then accepted homosexuality.
The House considered 29 amendments showing such fears about marriage equality as these:
- Tourists might stop coming from Asia.
- Sex ed curricula might include same-sex couples or even say that heterosexual relationships are not healthy.
- People might have to provide lodging to same-sex couples—a requirement already in law.
- Churches might not be able to discriminate against the LGBT community.
In a first, openly lesbian Rep. Jo Jordan (D) voted against the bill. No other openly LGBT lawmaker has voted against marriage equality, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. In her district, 75 percent of voters support marriage equality. Jordan said, however, that she had to represent the entire state. A statewide polling shows a 55-percent majority support for legalized same-sex marriage.
Almost 1,000 people spoke before the House passed the bill by 30-19.
A lawsuit has already been filed to slow the ability of same-sex couples to marry even if it becomes law. The people voted for a constitutional amendment asking if legislature could reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. The state government and attorney general agree that the legislature can then legalize marriage equality. State Rep. Bob McDermott is going to the state circuit courts with the theory that people didn’t understand what their vote meant. His position is opposite from anti-marriage equality supporters in California who argued that the will of the people was absolute.
McDermott also worries that marriage equality will force Dick and Jane books to show Dick and Dick or Jane and Jane. Rep. Gene Ward (R) worried about “mama bears” threatened by a penis entering an anus. (What is with this GOP preoccupation with sex!?)
Marriage equality in Hawaii has had a long 20-year journey since the state Supreme Court ruled that refusing a marriage license to Ninia Aehr and Genora Dancel was discriminatory and illegal. The Senate plans to finish the journey on Tuesday when it takes up the House’s amended bill. If the bill is passed and marriage equality is not blocked in the courts, same-sex marriages can begin December 2 of this year, and Hawaii becomes the 16th state in the union to recognize marriage equality.
Yesterday during the debate in the House, a rainbow appeared over the state capitol building.