Editorial: Ayotte must support nondiscrimination bill
As of midday yesterday, there were 59 U.S. senators pledged to support the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Supporters will likely need 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte should do herself and her constituents a favor and become No. 60.
At issue is legislation that’s been kicking around Congress for years. In an age when gay marriage and gay rights more broadly are rapidly gaining acceptance across the country and the globe, it’s a puzzle that this particular bill has taken so long to gain critical support. When last brought to a vote in the Senate in 1996, ENDA failed by just a single vote.
If Ayotte is, as her aides say, still reviewing the legislation, we’re hoping she’ll consider five good reasons to vote with the majority:
∎ ENDA is good for workers. In many parts of the country, it’s still legal to fire workers simply because they are gay – or because they are perceived to be gay. And many gay employees report discrimination on the job. Surely Ayotte, the former New Hampshire attorney general, can appreciate the injustice there. All employees should have the same rights in the workplace, regardless of their sexual identity and regardless of where they live.
∎ ENDA is in line with New Hampshire law. The state has had a law barring workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians for more than a decade. Support from Ayotte would be in line with her home-state legislators.
∎ Even in New Hampshire, ENDA would be important. The federal proposal goes further than state law in one respect: It includes protection for transgender individuals. State lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to broaden the New Hampshire law in 2009, failing amid a hateful campaign of ridicule that made clear just how much such anti-discrimination measures are needed.
∎ ENDA is line with New Hampshire voters. Everything in Washington comes with a political calculation, but this one should be easy for Ayotte. Her constituents want her to vote for this legislation. Writing in the Washington Post yesterday, researchers Jeff Lax and Justin Phillip noted widespread support for the bill across the country. And among lawmakers still on the fence, they calculated that Ayotte’s constituents in New Hampshire were most in favor. In other words, the risk of angering large numbers of voters at home is small.
∎ ENDA is good for the Republican Party. Along with the GOP’s poor showing among fast-growing minority groups in the 2012 election and its inability to garner support for immigration reform, the party’s position on this and other social issues risks turning it into an antique, unable to win new members from among the country’s youngest voters. Indeed, among the supporters of ENDA in the state are the New Hampshire Young Republican Federation, which last week had this to say: “The New Hampshire Young Republicans are proud to represent a diverse and inclusive group of future leaders who believe strongly in the principles of individual liberty and free markets. It is imperative that as Republicans we lead by example. The Golden Rule has no exceptions, especially in this great country.”
To reject the federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act is to succumb to political cowardice in the face of old-fashioned fear and bigotry. Ayotte is a better senator than that. We urge her to do the right thing.