“Discrimination impacts the lives of everyone. It not only deprives people of jobs and safe working conditions, it also robs our most vulnerable citizens of the vital services that they would have received from talented and dedicated [LGBT] workers.” – Officer Michael Carney
In Officer Carney’s testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives on September 5, 2007, he describes how he was terminated because of his sexual orientation. After nearly three years of internal battles, Officer Carney won his job back using anti-discrimination laws in Massachusetts—only 1 of 21 states that protect workers on the basis of sexual orientation. According to Officer Carney:
I’m a good cop, but I have lost two-and-a-half years of employment fighting to get that job back because I’m gay. And I never would have been able to do that had I not lived in Massachusetts or in one of the handful of other states that protect [LGBT] employees from discrimination.
Watch his full testimony below.
In 1996 the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, and the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, were introduced in the 104th Congress. The first piece of legislation would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, people from hiring and employment discrimination, and the second would infringe on their right to legally marry.
Under federal law, Section 2 of DOMA permits states to disregard the recognition of same-sex couples that were legally married in other states. Furthermore, Section 3 of DOMA defined marriage between “one man and one woman” for purposes of federal benefits. DOMA passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming, veto-proof vote counts of 342 to 67 in the House and 85 to 14 in the Senate. ENDA did not fare so well. The same year that DOMA passed both houses of Congress, ENDA was defeated on the Senate floor—a second crucial blow to LGBT individuals.
Although the Supreme Court later determined Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional, the law negatively impacted the lives of same-sex couples for 17 years. Since ENDA is still not law, LGBT workers have experienced workplace discrimination for the same period of time—and continue to do so. The repeated rejections of workplace rights for LGBT workers have relegated them to the status of second-class citizens, and that must change now.
ENDA will provide a solution to uneven state-based protections that protect some LGBT workers and leave others vulnerable
Studies show that LGBT workers continue to face high rates of discrimination. Because of federal inaction to protect LGBT workers, some states have passed laws or executive policies to institute workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In such states, LGBT workers are permitted to seek legal recourse through state courts. Even if the 113th Congress passes ENDA, state anti-discrimination laws would remain vitally important. For instance:
- Federal law is the floor, not the ceiling. If ENDA passes, state anti-discrimination laws could extend workplace protections that are not fully covered by federal law.
- An easier process for filing complaints. State governments can extend data collection and research efforts for LGBT individuals. State anti-discrimination laws could make it easier to file complaints for LGBT-discriminated workers.
- Incentives for employers not to discriminate. State anti-discrimination laws could broaden penalties—beyond federal law—for employers who still decide to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Research indicates that LGBT workers benefit by being in states with anti-discrimination laws. Although individual states can choose to enact anti-discrimination laws and policies, nothing can serve as a substitute for explicit language in a federal law that protects LGBT workers nationally.
Workplace discrimination is a problem that hurts LGBT workers every day. This discrimination, fueled by bias and dislike, prevents LGBT workers from thriving in a safe, equal, and supportive workplace. Without ENDA, it will be difficult for the LGBT community to build a successful life for themselves and their families. For this reason and for many others, Congress must pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Preston Mitchum is a Policy Analyst with the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.