Inclusive ENDA Hearings Begin

Yesterday the first ever transgender-inclusive ENDA hearings began before the U.S. Senate.

Restrooms and religion arose as the only objections today during the U.S. Senate’s first hearing on the inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). And the testimony from the Obama administration struck an unusually ironic note just two days after Maine voters rejected an equal marriage law there. The 2009 version of ENDA is different from a 2002 version that also received a Senate hearing in that it includes a prohibition based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. The only one of seven witnesses to speak against the bill was Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters Association. He raised the concern about religious exemptions, as he did in September when the House held a hearing on the bill.

Only three (all Democrats) of the 23 members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions bothered to show up for the hearing: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), whose opening statements are below.