The Right to Work

Saturday, April 28, 2007

HOW ARE 17 states, 276 cities and towns (including the District of Columbia) and 433 companies of the Fortune 500 more advanced -- daresay, more civilized -- than the federal government? They all prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. It's about time Congress allowed the nation to catch up -- and maybe it will, now that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been reintroduced in the House.

No one should lose a job or be refused a promotion simply for being who he or she is. That's the animating principle of ENDA, which would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee because of the person's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation applies to the same employers covered under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: private employers with 15 or more employees; local, state and federal governments; and labor unions and employment agencies.

ENDA doesn't mandate domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples. It doesn't compel religious institutions to violate their beliefs. And it doesn't do an end-run around the military's onerous "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But right now in 33 states, if a company wants not to hire you just because you're gay, it's free to discriminate. ENDA would change that.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). A Senate version of the bill is expected to be introduced next month, with votes in both chambers expected in the fall.

Passage of these bills would put the federal government on the same side as the American people, whose support for equal employment opportunities for gay men and lesbians jumped from 56 percent in 1977 to 89 percent in 2006, according to the Gallup Organization. This should come as no surprise. The right to work -- to make a living and provide for one's family and one's own well being -- is among the most basic of American rights. It's a matter of fairness, and it should no longer be off-limits to gay men and lesbians.

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