New Employment Non-Discrimination Act including gender identity introduced in House
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on June 25 on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. That bill passed the House of Representatives by a 249-175 vote in April.
If passed, President Obama is expected to sign it. When he was a member of the Senate, Obama was a sponsor of the legislation.
The Matthew Shepard Act would give the federal government the power to investigate and prosecute hate-motivated crimes. The act covers crimes where the victim was chosen based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
The act allows the Justice Department to aid state or local authorities in investigations and prosecutions. Where local juristdictions are unable or unwilling to act, the federal government would be allowed to take over a case.
Attorney General Eric Holder testified in favor of the bill that would provide local law enforcement with federal funds to combat hate crimes. This was the first time an Attorney General spoke in favor of the bill.
Holder told the committee, "One has to look at the unfortunate history of our nation. There are groups that have been singled out, that have been targets of violence.”
Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, questioned the need for the bill. He said he thought current state law enforcement was sufficient.
Sessions asked whether a church leader who spoke against homosexuality could later be charged with a hate crime if a member of his congregation then assaulted a gay person.
Holder said, "This is a bill to hold people accountable for conduct, not for speech."
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also mischaracterized the intent of the bill. Since it describes hate crimes as acts motivated by the perceived or actual gender status of a person, "This would make all rapes punishable as hate crimes," he said.
After the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to attach the bill to a Department of Defense authorization bill. This was done in 2007 and the bill passed the Senate. However, it was ultimately stripped from the final version that emerged from the House and Senate Conference Committee.
Attaching the bill this year is again expected to ultimately defeat it.
In the House, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was reintroduced on June 24. That law would ban discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In addition to the three openly gay members of Congress — Barney Frank, D-Mass., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., — the lead sponsors included three additional Democrats and five Republicans. George Miller, D-Calif., and John Conyers, D-Mich., Rob Andrews, D-N.J., are the three additional Democrats. Republican lead sponsors are IIeana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Michael Castle, R-Del., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Todd Platts R-Penn., and Leonard Lance, R-N.J.
The law would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee based on the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal law already covers race, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability for employment nondiscrimination.
Some states include protections for the LGBT community but it is still legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation in 30 states and for being transgender in 38 states.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already include sexual orientation in their equal employment policies and more than a third include gender identity.
A broad range of civil rights groups, unions and religious organizations support the passage of ENDA including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, NAACP, AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, AFSCME, National Education Association, National Employment Lawyers Association, Anti-Defamation League, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, American Civil Liberties Union.
A similar bill passed the House in 2007 but that version did not include gender identity. The bill did not make it to the floor of the Senate for a vote.