Usually, Christmas-week columnists wax poetic about the holidays or what religion means to humanity, but let's talk the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the possible executive order on nondiscrimination by President Obama until Congress passes such legislation. Oh, and for good measure, let's add in the fiscal cliff and Republicans. All of this is related in passing nondiscrimination for the more-than half of all U.S. LGBT citizenslike most Pennsylvanianswho live in places where LGBT discrimination is still legal. And this little gem, which I hope will give you conversation as you go from one holiday event or family gathering to another, will serve as my gift to you.
First, the governance drill. ENDA must pass both houses of Congress, then be signed into law by the president. While ENDA is overwhelmingly supported by Democrats, it will need Republican votes in Congress as well. It is generally believed that it can pass the Senate, but the House is a different story. First, you need the Republican votes, then you need the Republican leadership of the House to agree to bring the legislation up for possible hearings, a vote out of committee and then a full vote. And this is where that problem lies.
Have you watched Majority Leader John Boehner (R) attempt to deal with his caucus over the fiscal cliff? Well, imagine him on ENDA. He'd have to be a strong supporter of the legislation in order to use his political capital on ENDA. Another leader is Rep. Eric Cantor from Virginia, but he's more aligned with his Tea Party members.
And who can make them move? Well, the natural thought would be an LGBT Republican organization that has communications with the Republican leadership, but sadly Log Cabin and GOProud don't seem to have the influence needed to pressure Republican leadership. So thanks to Republicans, we are stalled in Congress.
So, until we get to a point where Congress will act, the only other move is an executive order from the president. That order will do little for most Americans; it's more symbolic. It's something rather than nothing but, like Congress, the president will use some of his good will (political capital) with some members of Congress. So the timing needs to be correct and activists don't like waiting. But hey, activists need something to complain about, so why not go after the president rather than the real culprits?
There are a few points here that should be clear. It's the Republicans who have stalled immigration reform, but unlike the Latino community, our activists, and specifically our Republican activists, don't have the clout that the Latino community seems to have. But there's another issue. Part of the reason for that is the Hispanic community has focused on that one issueimmigration reformand won over public support. Our community activists have focused on marriage equality, and therefore most elected officials and the public think of that as our legislative priority.
With marriage equality now before the U.S. Supreme Court, maybe our friends in what is sometimes referred to as Gay Inc.and I mean no disrespectcould try to employ a focus similar to that of the Hispanic community and concentrate on one issue: on an issue that literally leaves at least 1-million LGBT Americans with the possibility of the loss of homes and livelihoods.
Merry ENDA holiday to all.
Mark Segal is publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News.