I’m proud to represent the people of Massachusetts because we have led the nation in promoting equality. We understand that in America, equal means equal. That’s why Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts introduced the first Senate bill to prohibit employment discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community all the way back in 1979, and why Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman Barney Frank spent decades fighting to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would outlaw discrimination in the work place based on sexual orientation or identity. It has been a long fight—too long—to get to this day, but I’m happy to report that the Senate has finally passed ENDA.
There’s been great progress. Equal marriage is now the law in fourteen states. The Supreme Court has rejected the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that legalized discrimination against same-sex spouses, by calling that law exactly what it was – unconstitutional. There is much to celebrate, but even now, basic workplace protections are denied to millions of LGBT Americans. In 29 states, it is legal to fire someone solely for being gay.
According to various recent studies examined by the Williams Institute at UCLA, between 15% and 43% of LGBT individuals have reported experiencing discrimination or harassment in the workplace. A quarter of transgender Americans have reported being fired from a job due to their gender identity, and a whopping 90% have reported experiencing harassment and mistreatment, according to a recent report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. There’s been a lot of progress toward a more inclusive nation, but for LGBT workers in over half the country, a law to stop employment discrimination can’t come fast enough. There is simply no place for this kind of ugly discrimination in our country.
America is ready for ENDA to become law. An overwhelming majority of voters, both Democrats and Republicans, support its enactment because they know it reflects the values of America. And our businesses are ready too. Recent polling shows that a large majority of small businesses supports ENDA, and 88% of Fortune 500 companies have already implemented policies prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace. Raytheon, one of the nation’s top defense contractors and a Massachusetts-based company bars LGBT discrimination. One executive at Raytheon was quoted as saying that the organization’s “culture of inclusion absolutely gives us a recruiting edge” when it comes to hiring the best and the brightest.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act that the Senate passed would protect LGBT individuals in the workplace and help fulfill our constitutional responsibility to protect equality in this nation. ENDA doesn’t provide any special rights to any particular groups of Americans. It does not compel any religious organization to change its views. It just creates a level playing field for LGBT workers; it makes sure that all workers are judged by the work they do, not by who they are or who they love.
Both Democrats and Republicans support enactment of this law, so why isn’t it law? Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to permit the House of Representatives to vote on it. This failure to treat all our citizens with the same dignity is shameful.
Shortly before his death, in March of 2009, Senator Kennedy led what would be his final attempt to push this bipartisan legislation over the finish line. At the time, Senator Kennedy eloquently explained his continuing support for the ENDA by noting that ‘the promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us.’ Those words were true when the Equality Act of 1974 was first introduced. Those words were true when the Senate came within one vote of passing ENDA in 1996. Those words were true when Senator Kennedy offered them in 2009. And those words are true today.
We’ve made incredible progress at the national level, not just since the first same-sex couple was married in Massachusetts, but also in the ten months I have been in office. But this fight is not over—and I’m not done fighting. We are partners in the struggle to end discrimination and protect equality.
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