Why Paycheck Fairness But Not ENDA? Did Obama Run Out of Ink?


President Obama signed two executive orders extending critical provisions of the Paycheck Fairness Act to federal contractors on Tuesday, National Equal Pay Day. One of the orders means federal contractors can’t get fired for discussing their salaries with one another.

As a women’s rights advocate who has at various points in my career worked closely on the Paycheck Fairness Act, I must in good conscience blow the kazoo on all the celebrations taking place within my community. The president addressed only some employment discrimination on Tuesday, and equality for some is not equality for women.

Today, federal contractors join everyone else in remaining free to fire, not hire, and otherwise discriminate against women, as well as men, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. So women working for federal contractors can’t get fired for trying to figure out if they’re getting paid fairly, but they can get fired for coming out. Got it.

Let’s back up: We’re discussing executive orders because it’s the only practical way to make progress in the foreseeable future. Congress isn’t acting nearly fast enough on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which addresses wage discrimination against women, nor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which addresses employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. On the House side, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t be bothered to bring them up between his efforts to cut food stamps and sneak in a glass of merlot.

On the Senate side, chicanery rules the day on both bills. Wednesday marked the third time the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to pass, falling to yet another Republican filibuster. (That the right is openly flailing and flopping in its efforts to show women they care about something other than restraining our libidos did not appear to influence the dynamic on the floor; even all the Republican women voted no.)

On ENDA, the Senate at last voted to pass it last November, but not without tacking on a dangerous cluster of religious exemptions that leave too many people behind. In particular, parochial schools can continue discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and raking in government dollars, all while receiving protections from being required to comply with ENDA in order to keep their funding.

The implication is not abstract. Archdioceses that operate Catholic schools are struggling for cash, and want it all ways. They want to be able to take in secular dollars, and they want to continue practicing various forms of employment discrimination that they claim are an expression of faith. They also want to protect themselves from lawsuits for firing people who did nothing wrong on the job but manage to have personal lives the all-male hierarchy disagrees with (that would be most people). In one instructive example, last year a Catholic teacher fired for using artificial insemination to become pregnant was awarded $171,000 in a discrimination lawsuit.

Could the religious exemptions baked within ENDA be dictating President Obama’s failure to sign the executive order version that would apply to federal contractors? It’s a wise question of radio host Michelangelo Signorile and others to raise. After all, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continue to appear very much committed to enforcing the most discriminatory aspects of its doctrine in the U.S. Capitol Dome, no matter what the Pope says. It’s a lobby the president may not wish to upset once again.

In any case, the president is continuing to upset many of us who would like him to succeed. Recently Andrew Tobias, the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, expressed frustration with the president for failing to make good on his promise to LGBTQ advocates to sign an ENDA executive order targeting federal contractors. Others are calling for him to make the announcement on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But let’s be honest, he wasted an opportunity on National Equal Pay Day, and I’m willing to be the feminist advocate to say it. What’s the excuse? Did President Obama run out of ink? We’ve got plenty of pens.

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  • blfdjlj

    It’s time for ENDA to pass the House. Executive orders won’t do it. And yes, there should be reasonable religious exceptions in it. I don’t think that a Catholic organization should be forced to hire people who practice sexual behaviors immoral according to Catholic doctrine. I don’t get why a gay person would want to work for any Catholic group in the first place.

    • Shan

      “I don’t get why a gay person would want to work for any Catholic group in the first place.”

      There are no gay Catholics?

      • blfdjlj

        There definitely are (question is, how many of them live openly in the first place). Also, I don’t think that most Catholic organizations would ban anyone simply for being gay. The sticking point has usually been same-sex marriage (immoral according to Catholic dogma) and sometimes LGBT advocacy as well.

        Note that these exceptions should only apply to religious nonprofits like a Catholic school or something similar. They should not apply to private for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby.

        • Arekushieru

          So discrimination against married, gay Catholics is okay? And, actually, no, the Catholic Church DOES make provisions against homosexual acts, as well.

          • blfdjlj

            Well, the Catholic Church does not recognize such marriages, so they can decide to refuse to hire such a person.

            The Catholic Church makes a provision against same-sex ACTS, but not against being gay whilst remaining celibate. At the same time, the Church believes that all sexual relations outside marriage are immoral, so this does not discriminate against anyone.

            I don’t agree with Catholic doctrine myself, but it can’t be surprising that if you work for a Catholic group, you can’t stray too far from it. It seems obvious to me.

          • Shan

            That just seems so…sad and weird and anti-human.

            Dear Gays and Women: Your sexuality is perfectly fine and not sinful and/or excommunication or hell-trip-inducing so long as you don’t actually DO any of the things you think about. But it’s still a mortal sin to have impure thoughts so…

          • blfdjlj

            Well that’s Catholic logic. It’s ok to be gay, but don’t do anything to act on these desires. Similar with their position on married heterosexual couples – sex must be for procreation. No birth control ever.

          • Mindy McIndy

            It’s such a mind-fuck. I went to Catholic school, and knew from the time I was 4 that I had crushes on girls. I didn’t know about sex, but I knew about attraction. At the age of five, when all of the girls in my kindergarten class had crushes on boys, I had a crush on a little red-headed girl with freckles named Ashley. I told everyone I was in love with her and would marry her some day. That made me ostracized not only by my peers, but reprimanded by my teachers as well. When I finally had enough in the seventh grade, I would purposefully fail my religion classes. I knew what the “correct” answers were, but I would always fill in that being gay, abortion, contraception, pre-marital sex and euthanasia were not sins. My mom stopped making me go to a Catholic school after that, but she did try to get me confirmed. I told her that if she forced me to do that, I would stand up in front of everyone on confirmation day and tell them that this is all a bunch of bullshit and that I worshiped Satan. She never made me go to church for anything other than a funeral ever again.

          • Shan

            I kind of understand having to adjust to the mindfuck. Around the age of 4 or 5, after driving by a traditional wedding letting out of a church, I asked my parents what was going on (lots of fancy clothes, you know, really curious because we were barefoot, half-naked hippies). My parents explained that it was a wedding, and (briefly) what that was about. That being “when a man and a woman love each other and want to live the rest of their lives together” etc. So I asked: “So if a woman and a woman or a man and a man love each other, can they get married, too?” Credit to my parents, the stunned pause was very brief but they got to the point (in the early 1970s no less): “Uh, no…Because that’s against the law.” Which to me, at the time, wasn’t indicative of anything really important because I already knew that smoking pot was against the law but EVERYBODY I knew smoked it so, whatever. Also, everybody I was close to was an atheist, which we sadly didn’t tell others about because, Kansas. Where they’re probably trying to find a way to make it legal to burn people for that.

          • Arekushieru

            I, personally, think the ones who don’t support abortion, contraception, premarital sex (if it’s consensual) and euthanasia are secretly worshipers of Satan, to tell ya the truth. ;P

          • Arekushieru

            Not really. I used to be Catholic. I disagreed with Catholic viewpoints when I was Catholic, therefore they were discriminating equally against Catholics like myself. The Church can’t claim discrimination because it’s being prevented from PRACTICING discrimination.

            Yeah, except that banning marriage for a certain group then decrying sexual activity outside of marriage pretty much affects ALL people who are homosexual. ‘Allowing’ heterosexual couples to get married then decrying sexual activity outside of marriage, only affects a select FEW of heterosexuals. Pretty HUGE difference, there, actually.

          • blfdjlj

            Well, the Church’s position is that people experiencing same-sex attractions should remain celibate and refuse to act on them. I don’t agree with it, but I guess it’s their dogma, which Catholics can adhere to.

          • Arekushieru

            That’s the problem, it’s dogma that not every Catholic believes is even scripturally taught. Which makes the Ol’ Boys School in the leadership of the Catholic Church very discriminatory.

        • Shan

          So, just wondering…is it legal for a Catholic organization to only hire either married or single folks, male or female?

          • blfdjlj

            I don’t think that’s an issue. The Catholic Church is against any sexual relations outside of marriage, whether same sex or opposite sex, and it is against any type of birth control for married couples (including condoms).

          • Shan

            That wasn’t my question. I was asking because I wondered whether the Catholic (whatever organization) would have any reason to demand to know whether anyone they’re hiring was married or not. And then, of course, there’s always the variable definition of “married” to apply there.

            Just wondering.

          • blfdjlj

            That’s a good question. I don’t think you’re required to tell them, and anti-discrimination laws might stop them from doing so (young married women unwanted because they might start having children).

            That said, there was one case when a gay man was interviewed and offered a job as catering manager at a Catholic school. When he listed his husband as his emergency contact, they withdrew the offer.

      • infinitebuffalo

        …and sometimes it’s just the only job that’s available.

        • Shan

          Exactly. And that shouldn’t be the reason the employer gets to fuck the employee over.