Radio Silence From ENDA Opponents on Senate Floor

Posted November 7, 2013 at 5:00am

There’s one thing that hasn’t been heard on the Senate floor as the chamber debates legislation to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation: any opposition.

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., noted the radio silence from senators opposed to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act during his own floor speech on Tuesday.

“I searched the Congressional Record of yesterday to look for one statement in opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. There is not one. There was a specific opportunity given for anyone opposed to that measure to stand and speak,” Durbin said. “Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa supported it. He spoke eloquently from this desk yesterday before the vote, and then time was allocated to those in opposition. No one stood to speak. But then 30 voted against it.”

Durbin was referencing the Monday evening vote to limit debate on taking up the measure, which would prohibit employment-based discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

As of late Wednesday, the trend continued. Numerous senators in both parties had given passionate speeches in support of the protections, but not a single senator rose to speak on the other side.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on ENDA Wednesday, getting an agreement for a final vote Thursday afternoon.

There are a number of arguments against ENDA being pushed by conservatives, including concerns about the effects on job creation and religious liberty (both points raised by Heritage Action for America). Not a single GOP senator has made the case, however.

For instance, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama was among the Republicans voting against cloture on the motion to proceed. Sessions told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that he had no intentions of making a speech in opposition to the bill.

That’s not to say critics were absent from the floor — many of them just focused their attention on the troubled rollout of the website for the health care exchanges under Obamacare.

Back when the then Democratic-led House debated and voted on ENDA in 2007, a number of members spoke up against the bill.

“I am against the underlying bill,” said former Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. “I have never hidden that I’m against the underlying bill. I think it’s a disaster for Christian bookstores, at least 85 percent of which would fall under this, all sorts of Christian colleges.” Souder later resigned after admitting an affair with a staffer.

One argument from the 2007 debate made by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., no longer holds up with the increased acceptance of gay marriage and the Supreme Court having tossed the Defense of Marriage Act, perhaps a sign of how quickly times have changed.

“This legislation will provide certain activist judges with the legal justification to strike down state and federal marriage laws that define marriage as between one man and one woman. State ENDA laws are being used by activist judges to impose same-sex marriage and civil unions on states. State courts are using ENDA and other similar laws to justify the argument that the government has no rational basis to continue discriminating in the area of marriage,” Forbes said at the time. “And this is not something that might happen down the road.”