ENDA congressional act must pass


Commentary

In 1970, Congresswoman Martha Griffiths pulled off a legislative coup on Capitol Hill still unmatched in its courageous pluckiness when she did an end-run around a minority of representatives hostile to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment for women. With a majority of Congress in favor (Republican Leader and future president Gerald Ford heralded it as an “an idea whose time has come”), Griffiths pursued the arduous task of ejecting the amendment from committee via discharge petition, a rarely-used and somewhat exhausting maneuver in which a majority of the House of Representatives can sign up to force a bill onto the floor for a vote.

The amendment sailed through the House in 1971 and Emanuel Celler, the New York Democrat who blocked the measure as Judiciary Committee chairman, fell to feminist Elizabeth Hotlzman in his primary the following year (even GOP Congresswoman and conservative grand dame Clare Boothe Luce cheered Holtzman’s triumph). Sometimes the wave of the future sums up moments of our national life for posterity before our very eyes.

On Monday, the United States Senate moved forward on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which will soon pass the upper chamber of Congress with the support of not only the unanimous support of Democrats but also eight Republicans and counting (double-digits support on the final vote is probable at this point, with eyes on New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Arizona’s John McCain, among others, as potential backers). In fact, more than 70 percent of the American public, including a clear majority of Republicans nationwide, support ENDA, which would give gays and lesbians the same protection from discrimination in hiring accorded to Americans regardless of sex, race, ethnicity and religion under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But ENDA could be facing a buzz saw on the other side of Capitol Hill. John Boehner, confirmed by the shutdown as the weakest House Speaker in living memory, responded to the Senate’s progress by issuing an assurance that he won’t be bringing ENDA to the floor of the House for a vote. If he sticks to his guns, it may be up to the House to pull a Griffiths.

Most people’s perceptions of gay rights issues have been, to use a term used ad nauseam, evolutionary. Like many in my generation, my sensitivity to these issues was heightened by having gay friends and watching some of them come out. For those of us who witnessed our generation turn mainstream society gay-friendly issues like marriage equality (which enjoys more than 80 percent approval amongst the generation under thirty) aren’t political, they’re hardly questioned. We find it archaic that our representatives don’t share our view that political victories like ENDA are not only symbolically important, but include a functional guarantee of the respect and human dignity every American deserves.

In recent weeks, moderate Republicans in the House have begun a campaign to rehabilitate their image, denouncing the worst excesses of their party’s conference. They have good reason to: It will not be the Tea Partiers ensconced in gerrymandered districts who will face the tough reelection fights in 2014, but the centrists of the GOP who need to demonstrate, for the sake of their credibility and their careers, that they can buck their leadership and be bold in facing our nation’s problems. Even among conservative Republicans, a youth divide exists, as evidenced by past support for a version of ENDA by Wisconsin Congressman and 2012 Republican nominee for vice president Paul Ryan.

House Republicans should realize that a fight against ENDA is a counterproductive one that tarnished the Republican brand further with a young generation that is turned off by implications that gay friends should be treated as second-class. Hopefully, Boehner will be convinced to allow the bill to reach the floor of the Senate, but if not, or if Republicans bottle it up in committee, the GOP moderates should team up with Democrats to force a vote. The choice between a civil rights victory or defeat on the goal line hang in the balance, depending on this Congress to realize their opportunity to leave us a fairer, freer America and secure the realization of yet another idea whose time has come.

Fotios Tsarouhis is a student in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in political science.


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