(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee today held an executive session to mark-up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2001. The mark-up gives senators the opportunity to amend the legislation before sending it to the Senate floor. With Senator Murray's leadership, the HELP Committee approved the legislation, which will now go the Senate floor for a vote of the full Senate.
A member of the Senate HELP Committee, Murray is an original co-sponsor and a strong proponent of this legislation.
Senator Murray released the following statement:
"Mr. Chairman, I want to personally extend my gratitude to you for scheduling this mark-up and for all your efforts on this important legislation. Your leadership in this area is one of the main reasons that we have come so close to correcting this injustice. Today's mark-up is another step in moving this initiative into law.
ENDA is long overdue. Congress is behind the curve of many in private industry in protecting gays, lesbians and bisexuals against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Since ENDA was introduced in June 1994, I've been pleased to work on the effort to get ENDA passed and signed into law.
The current bill was introduced last July, and I'm proud to be one of the 43 cosponsors. This is a bipartisan bill. Additionally, further changes have been made to accommodate recent Supreme Court decisions on state immunity and free association rights of voluntary, non-profit organizations.
The bill also further expands the exemption for religious organizations. These changes were made to perfect the legislation and to increase support for ENDA. ENDA is simply an effort to ensure basic civil rights for all workers regardless of sexual orientation.
There are many examples of employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. A few years ago, I met a constituent named Sue Kirchofer. Sue's from the Seattle area. She was fired, in part, because she chose to use her own vacation time to attend the Gay Games as a soccer player. She was denied basic employment protections that every American should be able to count on. I cannot believe that there is one member of this Committee who would support open discrimination against honest, hard-working Americans.
I believe we are all united in our opposition to employment practices that discriminate against anyone based on race, religion, ethnic origin or sex. Not one member of this Committee would stand and claim that the Civil Rights Act was a mistake or has created too many problems for businesses. Yet without passage of ENDA, we are in effect condoning gross violations of basic employment rights and guarantees.
We came very close to passing ENDA in the 104th Congress. We lost by just one vote. But that vote showed us that there is strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate for extending basic civil rights and human dignity to all workers. The vote in the last Congress elevated the issue and generated a great deal of discussion about what ENDA is and what it is not. In fact, recently the Majority Leader indicated again that passage of ENDA is one of his legislative priorities for this year.
ENDA simply extends fair employment practices to gays, lesbians and bisexuals. It does not offer special rights or protections. It just ensures fair employment practices. This is only about employment. It simply guarantees workers that they will not be treated any differently because they are gay.
Many companies, states and local governments have responded to this glaring hole in our civil rights statutes by enacting policies and laws that prohibit discrimination in the work place based on sexual orientation.
Fifty-nine percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies.
I am proud that major companies in my state like Microsoft, Boeing, Costco, Nordstrom, Washington Mutual, Safeco, and the Weyerhaeuser Company have such policies. That's a Who's Who of companies in the Northwest.
Governments have acted as well. Thirteen states, the District of Columbia and 122 cities and counties ban anti-gay discrimination in private work places, as well as in public-sector jobs. Many county, state and local governments in my state have such a ban.
It is obvious to me that the private sector and many of our local communities have rightfully corrected the wrong in our civil rights laws that offers no federal protection to gays, lesbians and bisexuals against work place discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Congress is lagging far behind corporate America and local governments in doing what is right. We should act and pass ENDA as soon as possible. This mark-up is a good first step.
Finally, I applaud President Clinton for issuing, in May 1998, an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal civilian work force.
I want to thank the Chairman for his leadership and support of this important issue. I want to urge my Colleagues to support this bill so we can move this bill out of Committee and onto the floor. Thank you."