John Aravosis has a nice timeline of the stonewalling -- an apt term here in multiple ways -- from the heavily Democratic Congress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. First, there was going to be a vote in the House last fall. Then there was going to be a vote in January or February. Then there would be a vote in April. Now there will be a vote sometime before January. Maybe. Nobody's even talking about the Senate. Let's just say that time is not on ENDA's side. If it does not pass this year, it is unlikely to pass before 2013.
Recall that in 2007 the House voted in favor of ENDA but the Senate never scheduled a vote because, among other things, Democrats told us the mean Republican president would veto it. So there was no point in passing it. Now with stronger Democratic majorities in the House and in the Senate, and with a Democratic president in the White House, we still aren't even getting a vote on the bill.
But something besides the usual political timidity is involved here, as the Washington Post reports. Gay-rights advocates are once again insisting, this time with the support of every gay group and the openly gay House members, on including protection for transgendered workers in the bill. After a furor over expanding ENDA, such protection was deleted from the House version last time to guarantee passage.
Almost nobody wants to talk about it now, but the renewed insistence on including "gender identity" is killing any prospects the bill might have. Says the Post:
The legislation is unnerving moderate and conservative Democrats who face brutal reelection battles this fall, and its prospects of passing the Senate are somewhere between slim and none. . . .
[Rep. Barney] Frank has lost at least a few supporters this time around. Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), for one, feels that "if the transgender language is included, that's just too far," according to his spokesman.
Frank says he understands why moderate Republicans and politically vulnerable Democrats have "some uneasiness" about the issue. He has addressed two of the bigger concerns: workplace bathroom use and the appearance of transgender employees. . . .
None of these efforts seem to be swaying Blue Dogs [Democrats who are moderate and conservative, especially on fiscal issues].
[Rep. Heath] Shuler (D-NC), who serves as chief whip for the Blue Dog Coalition, said moderates have "walked the plank a lot around here on things that never go anywhere in the Senate" and that asking them to vote on a transgender bill in this year's political climate would be "a mistake." Asked whether he thought the bill would ever reach the floor, he said, "I can't imagine that it would."
We can protect gay employees from private employment discrimination now, this year, 2010. Or we can insist on also protecting transgender employees, who already have some protection under other federal law, and wait indefinitely for any protection. We cannot both insist on transgender-inclusion and get a bill passed for the foreseeable future. Maybe that's a price gay-rights leaders are willing to pay, but we should at least be honest about the cost.
ENDA was one of the two things (the other was the symbolic hate crimes law) that even skeptics like me believed Democrats would achieve. Now half of even that modest expectation is slipping away.