Congress may pass LGBT non-discrimination law before Pennsylvania
The U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee have scheduled a vote for the federal Employment Non-discrimination Act next week. If passed, it would end employment discrimination by “civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees” everywhere in the United States, based on sexual identity and orientation.
The bill, which has been in and out of Congress for at least a decade, is set to be voted upon July 10, just two weeks after the Supreme Court decisions which struck down a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act and deemed Proposition 8 in California illegal.
Here in Pennsylvania, legislators introduced a bipartisan non-discrimination bill earlier this year, which has been stalled in committee thus far, despite a record number of legislators signing onto it (and several other co-sponsors added last week after the Court’s rulings).
Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin notes that passage of such a federal bill would be a good thing for the commonwealth—and it would not deem our own legislation unnecessary.
“The legislation that the Congress is looking at only deals with employment. We’re dealing with employment, housing and public accommodations,” says Martin. “So, actually, the legislation that we’re looking at is more expansive, to be frank. And I think any time that the congress moves forward on something, that certainly adds pressure for us to do something here, as well.”
He notes that the federal bill coming up for consideration will show where Pennsylvania is, when compared to the rest of the country. Again.
“It’s one more moment that highlights the lack of protections in Pennsylvania—at least that’s the way I look at it,” he adds. “[But] it won’t pre-empt what we’re trying to do here.”
Rather, such the federal bill would put all U.S. Senators on record. “It’s harder for state legislators, in a lot of ways, to say they can’t vote for it when other people have. And many of the members of the U.S. Congress are on the same election schedule as many of the people of the state legislature. So, they can’t look to me and say, ‘This will be politically dangerous for me,’” Martin adds.
Equality PA has lobbied the state government and several local municipalities to pass non-discrimination laws and has been largely successful. Still though, almost 70 percent of Pennsylvania is not covered by non-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The same goes for the U.S. as a whole. Many states have LGBT non-discrimination laws on the books, though the U.S. Congress has yet to pass an a law like ENDA.
Led by Sen. Tom harkin (D-Iowa), the federal legislation has 50 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 12 in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. So, like similar legislation in Pennsylvania, the federal bill has the votes in the Senate, the more-right wing House’s position is unclear, and it’s probably a matter of putting the thing up for a vote.
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