The US House of Representatives voted 235-184 yesterday to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) H.R. 3685. The bill now goes to the Senate, where supporters believe they have 51 votes, but may lack the 60 votes necessary to bring the measure to the vote. And it is almost certain that President Bush would veto it. Still, it was a hard-fought victory and it is a historic day.
Shortly before the vote was taken, the bill's sponsor and author, Rep. Barney Frank, turned away a last-minute attempt by Republicans to delay the bill yet again by a parliamentary maneuver. (Frank had first proposed such a bill in 1972 and has fought for similar measures ever since. ) I like what Frank said as he urged the House to finally bring ENDA to a vote.
Mr. Speaker, we say here that we don't take things personally, and usually that is true. Members, Mr. Speaker, will have to forgive me. I take it a little personally...
[H]ere is the deal. I used to be someone subject to this prejudice, and, through luck, circumstance, I got to be a big shot. I am now above that prejudice. But I feel an obligation to 15-year-olds dreading to go to school because of the torments, to people afraid that they will lose their job in a gas station if someone finds out who they love. I feel an obligation to use the status I have been lucky enough to get to help them.
I want to ask my colleagues here, Mr. Speaker, on a personal basis, please, don't fall for this sham. Don't send me out of here having failed to help those people... What you have is a ploy by people who want to keep discrimination on the books, who want to deny protection to so many vulnerable victims of discrimination, but they at least understand that is not something you can say explicitly. So they give us this sham...
Yes, this is personal. There are people who are your fellow citizens being discriminated against. We have a simple bill that says you can go to work and be judged on how you work and not be penalized. Please don't turn your back on them.
As when the California State Legislature twice passed a bill authorizing same-sex marriage (and Gov. Schwarzenegger twice vetoed it) it was in part due to personal pleas of gay and lesbian legislators to their colleagues. This is why "coming out" is so important.
Now, I know many gay and lesbian rights groups were unhappy that Frank removed from the final bill language that would have protected gender identity as well. But it was the right call since that sacrifice was necessary to secure passage of the rest of the bill. (There was no mention of same-sex marriage, adoption, or other rights in the bill, though I am sure he would have liked to ask for those too.) It's a start. At long last, the struggle for ENDA is moving toward and end.