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When last we checked in with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), things were a little rocky. The Senate had just passed a version that extended employment protection to transgender people, but many LGBT rights groups felt that the language was too broad in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling. In the House, Rep. Jared Polis hoped to force a vote on a version with fewer religious exemptions. However, ENDA’s long journey through Congress came to an end last Wednesday, when it was left off the 2015 defense spending bill in a 7-3 vote in the House Rules Committee.
With gay marriage legal in over half of the United States, it might be easy to forget that in 29 states, there are still no employment protections for LGBT people. In Wisconsin, New York, and New Hampshire, there are employment protections in place based on sexual orientation but not gender identity. In a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP), “1 in 10 LGB workers report having been fired from a job because they were lesbian, gay, or bisexual. As many as 47% of transgender people reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion because of their gender identity.” Additionally, the report found that LGBT people of color were fired at a higher rate than their white counterparts.
Now that ENDA’s dead, there’s been a push to start the legislation process again with a better bill and a better strategy. This past Wednesday, the Center for American Progress (CAP) held an event that featured keynote speaker Sen. Jeff Merkley, who was the main champion of ENDA in the Senate. In his address, Merkley pledged to introduce a new, more comprehensive bill, which he called the “Equality Act of 2015.” Unlike ENDA, the Equality Act would aim to provide nondiscrimination protections in areas beyond employment, including “public accommodations, housing, jury service, and financial transactions for LGBT Americans.” In a statement to TIME, Merkeley said, “It can’t be right that people are thrown out of their rental housing because of their LGBT status or can be denied entry to a movie theater or to a restaurant. That simply is wrong and we need to take on this broader agenda.” As far as religious exemptions, the Equality Act intends to use the narrow religious exemptions that are already in place for categories like race, instead of the broad exemptions that made it into the final versions of ENDA.
Will this bill pass? Rep. Mark Takano, a panelist at the event, acknowledged that it probably won’t get through Congress any time soon, at least not while it’s still controlled by Republicans. However, he stated that it was important to continue fighting anti-LGBT discrimination on a federal level, and hoped that the Equality Act could attract corporate support, which would lend it more weight with constituents and fellow congresspeople.
There are several more LGBT-related bills undergoing legislation in Congress right now, some of which might be subsumed under the Equality Act (in a wildly optimistic future where the Equality Act gets through Congress and before the other bills do too):
The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would provide domestic partnership benefits to all federal civilian employees, was introduced in 2007 by Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Joe Lieberman. Since then it’s been reintroduced every year, and is currently in the Subcommittee of Workforce Protections in the House and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in the Senate.
The Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act, which would amend the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to include employee leave to care of a domestic partner (regardless of gender), and immediate family members, was first introduced to the House in 2003 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, and is currently in the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Sen. Richard Durbin First introduced it to the Senate in 2010, where it’s currently in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
The Freedom from Discrimination in Credit Act, which would provide federal protection for LGBT people against credit discrimination, was first introduced to the House by Rep. Steve Israel in 2009, where it now sits in the House Committee on Financial Services. Sen. Patty Murray introduced it to the Senate this year, where it was referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
The Social Security and Marriage Equality Act, which would amend the federal code for Social Security Administration to provide Social Security benefits to same-sex couples regardless of whether their home state currently allows them to get married, was introduced this year by Rep. Ron Kind and Sen. Patty Murray. A version of it is currently in the House Committee on Ways and Means, and a separate version has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.
ENDA’s long, drawn-out defeat in Congress shows just how much more work is left beyond the fight for marriage equality. In its report, CAP pointed out that, “In 14 states, individuals can legally marry their same-sex partner on Sunday and then legally be fired from their jobs on Monday simply for exercising that right.” This is the present future of LGBT advocacy, still fighting for more than piecemeal equality.