Fifteen years ago, I wrote a chapter called From Bella to ENDA, chronicling legislative efforts to pass a federal gay civil rights bill, from Congresswoman Bella Abzug’s Equality Act of 1974 through the last version of ENDA in 1999. I ended at a point at which passage of ENDA seemed possible.
In 2015, Congress still has not passed ENDA. But oh – behold the circle of life (and politics). Congresswoman’s Abzug’s bill was comprehensive – it added a prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination to all titles of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as prohibitions against sex discrimination in various titles of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in which sex had not been included.
After 41 years, we finally have a bill — the Equality Act of 2015 — that matches the comprehensiveness of the 1974 bill. Wow – yay!
But there is even more good news. A major theme in From Bella to ENDA was that gay rights advocates ought to feel comfortable arguing that love and sex between people of the same sex is as morally good as love and sex between people of the opposite sex. I clearly yearned for such an argument– writing about it before 2000 (e.g., in 1996 and 1997) and after 2000 (e.g., in 2005, 2006 and 2009).
Maybe we are here now at such a time – or close to it. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was a major statement of the moral respect to be accorded to gay men and lesbians seeking to marry. Having more people believe that “gay is good” may make it easier to pass anti-discrimination laws.
But there is other good news on the anti-discrimination front. The common-sense legal logic of the EEOC’s opinion in Baldwin v. Foxx — which concluded that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and thus protected under existing sex discrimination laws – may well be adopted by other federal and state agencies, and by courts at all levels, as they apply and interpret existing sex discrimination laws.
It will still be a good thing for Congress to enact the Equality Act of 2015. But, in the meantime, we are heading towards equality and fairness for LGBT people in this country at – oh, such a quicker pace — than the 26 years chronicled in From Bella to ENDA.