Memo to Congress: Pass ENDA Already!

The United States has the inglorious distinction of being one of the few Western nations that has not passed federal workplace protection laws that cover sexual orientation, instead choosing to leave the issue to the states. The result is that in twenty-nine states, it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian. However, a bill called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) looks to change that. It has been proposed many times before but always failed to pass. This time, however, the momentum may be in its favor. While I put ENDA in the category of “no-brainers,” along with other gay rights issues–meaning that it is a very cut and dry issue with all of the good arguments supporting one side (the pro-gay rights side)–many Republicans oppose the bill, so I am going to explain why I support it.

In the first place, it is an insult to LGBT Americans when the law allows businesses to fire them based on their sexual orientation. It suggests that they are second-class citizens, that their rights are unimportant, and that discrimination against them is not such a bad thing. While workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians is decreasing, that is no reason not to outlaw it. An analogy will illustrate this point: even if murders were decreased or eliminated, it would be ridiculous to then legalize it. When a practice is abhorrent, it must remain illegal, regardless of how prevalent or rare it is.

Some people argue that anti discrimination laws can help pave the wave for lawsuits based on false claims of discriminations. While frivolous lawsuits can and do happen, this fails as an argument against anti discrimination laws. Some people falsely claim to have been defrauded. Should we therefore legalize fraud? Some people falsely claim to have been robbed. Should we therefore legalize robbery? Of course not.

Some people claim that sexual orientation is a choice and should therefore not be a category covered under anti discrimination laws. In the first place, I would ask the people making these arguments when precisely they chose to be heterosexual. Chances are, they will not remember, because sexual orientation is not a choice. Even the homophobic Roman Catholic Church has stopped labeling homosexuality as a choice. It is worth noting, however, that there is a certain double standard at work among conservative Christians who make this argument against ENDA. They claim that gay people choose to be gay and therefore should not be covered under anti discrimination laws. Yet religion is very much a choice, and most of these same conservative Christians would be outraged if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were modified to make it legal to discriminate in the workplace based on religion. Yes, that’s right. If an employer fires somebody for being Christian, that is a violation of federal law. Employees who happen to have been born gay and therefore are discriminated against on the job, however, are out of luck under the current system.

Some opponents of ENDA warn of cases such as a bakery being forced to close down for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The truth, however, is that a business is not a church. A non-profit church (sorry Creflo Dollar) should be allowed to refuse services to people based on factors like race and sexual orientation, but a business has no right to discriminate. If a business, for any reason, refuses to serve everyone equally, regardless of traits like race and sexual orientation, that business deserves to close down. Period, full stop.

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