Editors' Note: Representative Andre Carson is today's guest blogger. Congressman Carson is a Democrat who represents the Indianapolis area. He is a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) legislation currently waiting for mark-up in a House committee.
We all know the struggles workers across this nation are going through with thousands every day being let go from their jobs because of a tough economy. I have every confidence that the steps Congress and the President have taken to re-fuel our economic engine are working, and though we still have a ways to go, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But if the status quo remains, even as our economy gets back on track, thousands of people next year will continue to be shown the door at their place of employment. Their departure will have nothing to do with declining revenues or job performance, but rather everything to do with their lives.
In the majority of states within our union, encompassing our great nation founded on the principles of equality, justice and liberty, you can still be fired from a job--or not hired for one--because of your sexual orientation or gender identity.
For a nation that prides itself on a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality, believing wholeheartedly in the notion that success is determined by our work ethic and drive to want it more than the other guy (or gal), the fact that people can be dismissed off-hand because they're dating someone of the same sex seems not only unfair--but also un-American.
Despite this fact, it's been an uphill battle to change federal law to protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination in the workplace. My sincere hope is that the 111th Congress can finally change this by sending the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)--a bill for which I am a co-sponsor--to the desk of President Barack Obama.
Introduced in various forms during every congressional session since the late-1990s, ENDA would prohibit discrimination based on an individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity by employers. The goal of the legislation is simple: to address the history and widespread pattern of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by employers and further provide for effective remedies for such discrimination.
Critics assert that this bill would give special privileges to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. Of course this argument is false. This legislation is not about special rights, it's about equal rights.
We already have civil rights laws protecting against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability and national origin. This bill would simply put LGBT Americans on the same footing as everyone else, resulting in a fundamental fairness that rewards no one, but offers opportunity to everyone.
The American people understand this. A number of public polls show Americans weighing-in with heavy majorities saying that gays and lesbians should have equal rights in the workplace. Also, many of our top corporations have recognized the societal and economic benefits to ensuring a level playing field for LGBT workers (the overwhelming majority of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their workplace nondiscrimination policies.) And in dozens of states, there are already laws on the books--similar to the provisions contained in ENDA--that protect the rights of LGBT workers.
All this is a sign of progress, and certainly signals the fact that Americans believe strongly in fundamental fairness in the workplace. But the fact remains that in the majority of states--including my home state of Indiana--it is still perfectly legal to fire someone because of they're dating someone of the same sex or because they personally identify themselves as the opposite sex. Job performance need not be considered.
The need for ENDA is evident. That's why we must seize the moment in order to accomplish what previous Congresses could not.
Mark-up of ENDA will begin in earnest next month, with the goal of bringing it to the House floor by the end of January. I know there has been some frustration by some in the LGBT community relating to the pace of this process--and taking into account the fact that this fight for equal protection under the law has gone on for decades, I understand the angst.
Please know that I am committed to supporting the passage of ENDA. And I know many colleagues of mine share this commitment. But we also have to ensure that after it becomes law, the language will pass legal muster (because it will undoubtedly come under fire in court). That's why the House Education and Labor Committee is focusing on crafting ENDA so that it will absolutely stand up in a court of law, ensuring that even the most conservative judges will not be able to thwart the law's intent to bring about fairness and protect against discrimination.
I remain confident that, at the end of the day, working together, we will prevail in ensuring ENDA becomes the law of the land. Because this bill is not just about doing things the fair and equal way--it's about doing things the American way.