On Thursday, the Senate passed the Employer Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians, and the transgendered. The vote was 64 to 33, with 10 Republicans joining all voting Democrats. (Sen. Bob Casey [D-Pa.] was absent.) The bill faces longer odds in the House, where Speaker John Boehner opposes the legislation and has no plans to bring it to a vote.
That doesn't mean there's no hope for ENDA in the House. Supporters say the House version of the bill has at least 193 GOP co-sponsors. The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights group, is bullish. "While many are already beginning to wave the white flag on passage of ENDA in the House," says executive director Gregory Angelo, "Log Cabin Republicans has an optimistic view having recently met with nearly 50 House Republicans making the case that no one should be fired simply because they're gay." He adds:
Undoubtedly, the Republican Party is going through a cultural shift as more Republican legislators consistently step up for LGBT Americans. LCR believes this momentum already existing in the Party will help propel this bill to the House floor. Once there, we're confident it will pass. We encourage GOP House leadership of the 113th Congress to allow a conscience vote on ENDA and make history once again. [Log Cabin Republicans]
House leadership controls the calendar, though, and unless supportive Republicans and Democrats force a vote through a legislative maneuver like a discharge petition, Boehner's decision holds.
Boehner should change his mind, says the Bush White House's Press Secretary Ari Fleischer at Politico. First of all, "it’s the morally right thing to do." Also, ENDA encourages workplace freedom and promotes individual liberty, and "supporting it is important to the future of the Republican Party." A strong majority of Americans, even a majority of Republican voters, support the law. But that's not even the most compelling argument, Fleischer adds:
Politically, it’s about time for the GOP to do the right thing while acting in a more inclusive and welcoming manner. Republicans need to expand our appeal and earn the support of millennials. The younger generation of Americans views gay rights differently than our parents’ generation, and as was noted in an assessment of the Republican Party I co-authored following the 2012 elections, issues like this are gateways into whether young people see the GOP as a party worthy of support. [Politico]
Millennials aren't the only group supporting ENDA — so is the Mormon church, or at least its delegation in the Senate, says Jeremy Peters in The New York Times. From Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to old school conservatives like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ENDA has had "an unconventional and powerful ally" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In fact, majorities in the country's largest religious groups — including 59 percent of white evangelical protestants — support workplace protections for gay and lesbian workers on principle, according to a May poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Not only that, but recent polling indicates that even a majority of Republicans approve of ENDA, argues Fleischer. The former press secretary cites statistics from a report by GOP pollster Alex Lundry for Project Right side:
Among Republicans, 56 percent nationwide supported the law, while only 32 percent opposed it. Additional statewide polling conducted by conservative pollster Jan van Lohuizen in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire confirmed those findings. [Politico]
That doesn't guarantee the House will echo the Senate any time soon, but "if Republican representatives in either chamber fail to back ENDA, it will be for reasons other than representing their constituents’ views," said Robert P. Jones in The Washington Post before the Senate passed the bill.
The Senate's passage is big news, but "not because it means ENDA will become law anytime soon," cautions Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. "Breaking House GOP opposition could take years." But it won't be forever — gay rights is just gaining acceptance too fast for them "to resist for too much longer."
House Republicans will ultimately submit and pass a federal law barring discrimination in hiring decisions against gays, lesbians, and transgender Americans. Or they will lose their majority, and Democrats will pass it instead. Just look at the vote in the Senate. Ten Republicans voted for ENDA.... Even Republicans know time and demographics are wearing down what's left of their opposition. [Washington Post]