On July 10, 2013, just two weeks after DOMA was ruled unconstitutional, members of the Senate Committee ruled 15-7 in favor of Senate Bill 815 called the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2013. This is the eighth revision since being introduced in 1994. The purpose of ENDA is to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This update is a significant improvement upon previous revisions. In the past, it has been unable to fulfill its intended purpose due to significant language that has been excluded. Gender identity was not proposed in the wording of the bill until 2007 when introduced in the Senate and then removed once making its way to the House. On two occasions in 2007 and 2009 have attempted to include gender identity in the wording only to have failed and died in committee.
So what does all this talk about sexual identity and gender really mean?
Sexual identity and gender are completely different concepts:
- Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted.
- Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.
Across the United States, LGBT individuals are being fired from their place of employment due to discrimination. According to a June 13 poll by the Pew Research Center, 21 percent of LGBT adults say they have been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay, or promotions.
In addition to workplace discrimination, LGBT employees face wage disparities, and studies show that the transgender population is disproportionately affected.
Currently, 29 states provide no state law to protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees from being fired and 33 states lack state laws protecting transgender individuals.
North Carolina is an employment-at-will state which means that an employee can be fired for no reason except in cases of discrimination. Federal protection legislation such as ENDA is important because statutes will prohibit employers from discharging employees based on impermissible considerations such as sexual orientation or gender.
Senator Richard Burr(R-NC) was quoted stating:
“Like most Americans, I strongly oppose and condemn unjust discrimination, it is my hope that our society can be tolerant of different people and ideas. That said, whenever we consider new legislation we must always consider the interplay of new laws with existing rights. I am concerned that the ENDA bill would go beyond our existing laws protecting individuals’ employment rights and would impose new burdens and legal uncertainties regarding the exercise of religious liberties. Therefore, I plan to oppose the bill.”
Despite Richard Burr’s comment, a poll released on June 17, 2013, by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that a strong majority of North Carolinians 71% think employers should not be able to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation compared to just 20 percent who think they should be able to.
ENDA is now one next step forward to being approved by the senate where it will hopefully be approved. It must be passed by both the senate and the house before President Obama can sign it into law. Click here to track the progression of the bill.