House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) isn’t nearly as surprising as his explanation for his position.
“I am opposed to discrimination of any kind in the workplace or anyplace else, but I think this legislation … is unnecessary and would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits,” Boehner said at a Capitol press conference, signaling the bill had no future in the House. “People are already protected in the workplace.”
No, actually they’re not.
Boehner has a few options when it comes to stating an opinion on ENDA, which easily passed the Senate with bipartisan support last week. The Speaker can either support or oppose the bill, then explain his position. What he can’t do – or at least, shouldn’t do – is make stuff up.
Boehner is opposed to “any kind” of discrimination? That’s certainly a nice sentiment, but in most states, it’s legal to discriminate against LGBT Americans in the workplace. In these states, an employer can hang a sign in the window saying, “Help Wanted: No Gays Need Apply,” and that’s legal. A boss can learn that an employee is gay and then fire that worker on the spot – for no other reason – and the employee would have no legal recourse.
That’s not a matter of opinion; it’s just current law. Boehner can look it up if he’s not sure. There are currently federal protections in place to prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, national origin, disability, or genetic information, but ENDA intends to extend protections to include sexual orientation and sexual identity.
Boehner can argue for or against those protections, but when the Speaker says “people are already protected in the workplace,” he either formed an opinion on ENDA without understanding the basics or he doesn’t consider LGBT Americans “people.”
He added, “Listen, I understand that people have differing opinions on this issue, and I respect their opinions, but as someone who has worked in this employment law area for all of years in the statehouse and all of my years here, I see no basis, or no need, for this.”
I don’t mean to sound picky, but if he’s “worked in this employment law area” for many years, Boehner probably should have learned something about the basics. So what explains such brazen ignorance?
If the Speaker opposes gay rights, he can make his case. If he doesn’t want to expand civil rights protections in the world place, it’s up to him to explain why. If he believes it’s more important to prevent the possibility of “frivolous lawsuits” than to prevent discrimination, I’d welcome his substantive arguments.
But pretending the law isn’t the law is simply ridiculous, and raises questions anew about the Speaker’s baseline competence.
My point is not to say Boehner is wrong because he disagrees with me on an important issue; my point is Boehner is wrong because his claims are at odds with reality.