Senior Obama Justice Department Official: Employment Non-Discrimination Act a “Top Legislative Priority”

WASHINGTON, DC – Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez today
stated that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a “top legislative
priority” of the Obama Administration.  The remark came during a Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing focused on the

Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, the chief Senate co-sponsor
of ENDA, applauded the comment as a major endorsement of the Senate’s efforts
to pass a fully inclusive version of the bill.

“Today, we took two important steps forward on ENDA. 
First, we held the first Senate hearing on this bill in seven years – and the
first ever Senate hearing on a fully inclusive version of the bill. 
Second, the Obama Administration has made a major public statement in support
of our efforts.  With the backing of the White House and growing support
in the Senate and the House, I am optimistic that we can end discrimination in
the workplace on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 would prohibit
employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management
committees from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those
employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual
sexual orientation or gender identity.  Such protections are already in
place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national
origin, age, and disability.  The legislation was introduced earlier this
year by Senators Merkley and Susan Collins (R-ME).

During testimony before the HELP Committee today, Perez
said, “We have come too far in the struggle for equal justice under law to
remain silent when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and
ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills and
ability and everything to do with myths, stereotypes, and prejudice.  And
for this reason, the passage of ENDA is a top legislative priority for the
Obama Administration.”

“I am thrilled to have this outstanding endorsement of ENDA
from the top civil rights lawyer in the Obama Administration,” said
Merkley.  “More and more we are hearing from businesses, civic leaders and
community groups that they stand behind ENDA because it is a matter of simple
fairness that we allow every American the right to earn a living.  There
is no equality of opportunity in America until there is equality of opportunity
in employment.  Discrimination is simply wrong.”

ENDA currently has the support of 42 Senate cosponsors,
including Merkley and Collins.  Other co-sponsors are:  Assistant Majority
Leader Richard Durbin, HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Senators Daniel
Akaka (HI), Michael Bennet (CO), Jeff Bingaman (NM), Barbara Boxer (CA),
Sherrod Brown (OH), Roland Burris (IL), Maria Cantwell (WA), Ben Cardin (MD),
Bob Casey (PA), Chris Dodd (CT), Russ Feingold (WI), Diane Feinstein (CA), Al
Franken (MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Daniel Inouye (HI), John Kerry (MA),
Paul Kirk (MA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Herb Kohl (WI), Mary Landrieu (LA), Frank
Lautenberg (NJ), Patrick Leahy (VT), Carl Levin (MI), Joe Lieberman (CT),
Robert Menendez (NJ), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Patty Murray (WA), Jack Reed (RI),
Bernie Sanders (VT), Chuck Schumer (NY), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Olympia Snowe
(ME), Arlen Specter (PA), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Mark Udall (CO), Tom Udall
(NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Ron Wyden (OR).