Late last month, leaders in Washington gathered to remember Tom Foley, the former speaker of the House who died at the age of 84.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that he and Foley “shared a deep respect for the institution and a belief that working with the other side, particularly at a time of divided government, is no heresy when it enables you to achieve some good for the nation.”
House Speaker John Boehner added, “It was his sense of fairness, his port-in-a-storm-bearing that will always stand out for me. It’s how he held this institution together at a very difficult time.”
Bipartisanship. Fairness. Working together for the good of the nation.
Those are noble goals. And McConnell and Boehner should remember them when it comes to passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
This proposed law, which should be not be controversial, bans discrimination based on sexual preference and identity and encodes workplace protections into federal law for gays, lesbians and transgender people.
To their credit, several Republicans in the Senate have joined Democrats in supporting ENDA. The Senate signaled its likely approval Monday with a 61-30 vote, which clears the way for a final vote later this week.
Yet the measure appears doomed in the House. Boehner has made claims the bill, if passed, would invite waves of litigation against employers.
“The speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small-business jobs,” said spokesman Michael Steel, a comment that seems to suggest Boehner will not let ENDA come up for a vote.
Boehner should remember the words he used about Foley’s “sense of fairness.”
Fairness demands the speaker let his chamber vote on this simple extension of civil rights.
Fairness demands the speaker recognize that gays, lesbians and transgender people continue to be discriminated against in hiring and promotions.
Fairness demands the speaker not dismiss an entire group of Americans as abusive litigators, especially when the data rebut his claim that ENDA would trigger a wave of lawsuits.
In July, the U.S. Government Accountability Office examined the complaints filed in the 21 states and the District of Columbia that have laws banning workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians. Most of those states also ban discrimination based on gender identity. In the years examined, 2007 to 2012, the data “show relatively few employment discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to the GAO. In California, only 1,104 out of 19,839 employment discrimination grievances filed in 2012 involved sexual orientation as a basis.
If Boehner thinks that non-discrimination laws are a litigation nightmare, he should seek to end the ones that protect women and ethnic minorities. But he’ll never do that, because it would further harm the GOP’s electoral prospects.
Instead, he stands in the way of ensuring workplace protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people.
Is that fair?