Back in the primaries for the US Senate race, I was an early supporter of Steve Novick, but after Jeff Merkley won the primary, I swallowed my pride, wrote the check, and trundled down to the Merkley office to volunteer as much as I could.
Today, Jeff Merkley more than earned the support that I gave him. He was one of four Senators, including Susan Collins, Olympia Snow and Ted Kennedy, who introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) into the United States Senate. He is continuing his commitment to workplace protections, as he pushed successfully for a state version of ENDA, the Oregon Equality Act, when he was Speaker of the House. Here is part of Merkley’s statement today:
“There is no place in the workplace for employment discrimination,” said Senator Merkley. “No worker in America should be fired or denied a job based on who they are. Discrimination is wrong, period. I’m proud to join Senator Kennedy, who is a civil rights legend, and Senators Collins and Snowe, both champions for equality, in taking this next step in our ongoing effort to create a more perfect union and guarantee every American, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the right to earn a living.”
For the first time in over a decade, this law has a great chance of passing, and President Obama has promised to sign it. It’s hard to believe, in some ways, that ENDA doesn’t already exist. It aims to ensure that a person cannot be fired simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Without it, citizens in most states can be fired, harassed and denied advancement not because of their job performance but because their boss or co-workers don’t like who they love and who they are.
This bill is a long time coming. It has been introduced, in one form or another, since 1994. Some versions of it did not include protections for gender identity – those that did lost that protection as part of a process of last minute but futile compromise. This latest version, thankfully, includes it and it looks like this protection won’t be whittled away.
While some states, local jurisdictions and companies already provide protections for GLBT workers, a federal law offers far more. It not only extends the protections to all, regardless of where you live or work, but also offers more power to actually punish those who discriminate. Federal courts, unlike those at lower levels, have more penalty power and resources to put some serious teeth into the intent and meaning of the law.
So, thank you, Senator Merkley, for making me proud, and sign me up for the re-election campaign!