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The House Must Act to End Employment Discrimination | Commentary

From coast to coast, courts are taking action to extend equal rights to LGBT Americans. Unfortunately, back in Washington, the Republican-controlled House has extended its historic streak of inaction by continuing to allow employees to be fired simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Today, despite unprecedented progress in the battle against discrimination, a majority of states still allow employers to fire an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In our nation, built on the principle that with hard work and dedication, anyone can get ahead, you can be fired with no cause, denied the ability to provide for your family, simply for how you identify. This is un-American and it is unacceptable. It’s none of your boss’ business who you love.

That’s why we and our colleagues took action this week to force a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act by filing a discharge petition, which with the signatures of a majority of the members of the House, will trigger an immediate vote on the House floor. More than two-thirds of the Senate passed its version of ENDA nearly a year ago in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion and now it is time for Speaker John A. Boehner to stop dragging his feet.

LGBT Americans have the right to build a career and provide for their families without fear of baseless termination and harassment. Though we have laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, gender, disability status, and national origin, it is still legal under federal law for most employers to fire LGBT employees simply because of who they are and who they love. While the president’s executive order prohibiting LGBT based discrimination was a good first step for federal contractors, there are millions of additional hardworking employees still lacking protections from discrimination.

States with non-discrimination laws have brought badly needed job security and freedom from harassment to thousands of Americans who no longer have to choose between risking their career and lying about themselves at work — and they have done so without ushering in the torrent of job losses, frivolous lawsuits, or burdensome regulations that opponents of non-discrimination statutes often predict.

In states without these laws, however, LGBT employees have no recourse to fight back against employment discrimination. We have heard countless stories of hardworking Americans losing their jobs or facing threats and harassment simply because they chose to act like any other employee — talking about a spouse or significant other at the water cooler or putting a family picture on their desk.

Fortunately, Congress has the power to remedy this injustice by passing ENDA now. This bipartisan bill embodies a simple premise based on traditional American values: whether a person is hired, fired, or promoted should be based on the quality of their work, not who they are. The premise is so simple that most Americans believe it is already the law.

We have a historic opportunity to protect millions of Americans from harassment and discrimination in the workplace, but it is up to us to seize this moment.

If ENDA were voted on today, it would undoubtedly become law. The only thing standing in the way of these basic workplace protections is Boehner’s refusal to allow the bill to be debated and receive a vote on the House floor. Since Boehner has steadfastly resisted calls from Americans from across the country and from both political parties to allow a vote on ENDA, it is time for us to act without him.

Our discharge petition also calls for an amendment clarifying that, where religious freedom and freedom from discrimination appear to collide, ENDA will hold employers to precisely the same standard to which they are held with regard to discrimination based on race, gender, and national origin. In the post Hobby Lobby era, Americans want to make sure that courts don’t make their private matters a corporate matter. The standard set forth in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 balances religious freedom with the rights of the individual better than the amended language of the Senate bill.

In a nation that was founded on principles of individual freedom, it is unfathomable that we would allow employers to fire and harass workers on the basis sexual orientation and gender identity that are irrelevant to job performance. If you believe, as we do, that employees should be evaluated based on merit, then we hope you will call on your representatives to sign this discharge petition and allow these commonsense workplace protections to receive a long overdue vote on the House floor.

Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., are co-chairmen of the LGBT Equality Caucus.

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