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Another View - Gene Robinson: Sen. Ayotte rises above partisanship with 'yea' vote on ENDA

November 13. 2013 9:47PM

There is a growing sense that full and equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are full-steam-ahead becoming the law of the land. But there is a down side to such an air of inevitability: many people believe we have accomplished more than we actually have!

Some 90 percent of Americans believe that you cannot be fired from your job simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Those 90 percent of Americans would be wrong.

Only 21 states provide job protection for their gay and lesbian workers, based on sexual orientation. Still fewer — only 17 states — provide protections for transgender workers, based on gender identity. In many states, you can indeed be fired for no reason other than being LGBT, with no recourse in the courts. And there are NO federal workplace protections for the nation’s 8 million LGBT workers. None. The opportunity to change that is upon us.

Recently the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in a bipartisan recognition of fairness in the workplace. The bill now goes to the House, where Speaker Boehner has been threatening not to put it up for a vote. Support for ENDA by a number of Republican senators will hopefully cause him to rethink his opposition. Fairness and equality before the law demand that he do so.

I am proud to say that our Senator Kelly Ayotte is one of only a few Republican Senators who cast a “yes” vote for ENDA. With the religious protections language added, as she requested, Sen. Ayotte has now cast her vote for an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Sen. Ayotte and her fellow Republicans and I disagree on many things, but I want to give credit where credit is due. As one of her gay constituents, I want to say “thank you, thank you” to Sen. Ayotte for rising above partisanship and voting “yes” on behalf of her New Hampshire LGBT citizens/workers.

Sen. Ayotte has actually been an ally in the past, related to civil rights for LGBT people. She is to be applauded for that, especially given the general disfavor such legislation has enjoyed among her fellow Republicans. But like the people of New Hampshire, Sen. Ayotte knows “fair” and “unfair” when she sees it. Being fired from your job simply for being LGBT is not “fair,” and it denies LGBT citizens the equal treatment under the law promised in the Constitution.

Sen. Ayotte is in good company as a supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Majorities of voters in every U.S. state support ENDA, as do majorities of Republicans, independents, and Democrats nationwide. With carefully crafted, compromise language which protects religious bodies, majorities of every Christian denomination support ENDA. And because the inclusion of LGBT workers is becoming a best practice for businesses, 63 percent of small businesses also support ENDA.

Job security is one of the mainstays of a stable and productive life. Imagine the inherent insecurity of being afraid that a slip of the tongue, a family photo left on one’s desk, or attending church or other public event with one’s partner might result in losing one’s livelihood. Loss of a job because of such discrimination, without any recourse, means that LGBT families can all-too-easily fall into poverty, not to mention the emotional and familial stresses that accompany on-the-job anxiety about losing one’s job. No one should be subject to that kind of insecurity, based on discrimination.

Fair is fair. Workers should be judged on their job performance and merits, not their identities. Sen. Ayotte, thank you for joining your colleague Senator Shaheen in standing up for fairness for LGBT workers, in New Hampshire and across the nation. Now let’s see if the Republicans in the House will follow Sen. Ayotte’s lead! Let’s make “liberty and justice for all” really mean ALL!

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC. He retired on Jan. 5, 2013, as the IX Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.

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