Hanging in my office is the vote tally for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, sent to me by Senator Edward Kennedy soon after September 10, 1996. That day, I had watched from the Senate gallery as a bill to protect gay and lesbian workers from on-the-job discrimination based on their sexual orientation failed to pass by one vote.
Since that time, we have seen extraordinary movement forward on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — in public opinion and in the law of the land. We can judge how much on Thursday, when the Senate is again due to vote on a bill that prohibits job discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Recent victories in the march toward equality have been historic. This summer, for example, the Supreme Court struck down key segments of the Defense of Marriage Act, which I had seen voted into law 85-14 just hours before ENDA failed. In 2010, Congress passed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which President Barack Obama signed.
Yet our work is far from over. Protecting America’s LGBT veterans and current military members is an essential measure of the progress of our nation — and one that federal law has ignored for too long. Thursday in the Senate, we have the opportunity to make meaningful progress by passing ENDA.
Most Americans — 90 percent in fact – believe that this non-discrimination act is already the law. Majorities in every state support it. Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike back ENDA by strong majorities. So it was in the months before the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed — 78 percent of Americans supported that move toward equality and fairness.