Pennsylvania is now the only state with marriage equality, but no explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace. Two Democratic congressional candidates are making ENDA an issue against potentially vulnerable Republicans.
Mary Ellen Balchunis, who’s worked as a political scientist professor and is challenging Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) in the race for the state’s 7th congressional district, and Kevin Strouse, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who’s running against Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) in the 8th congressional district, and both calling for action on ENDA.
In an email statement to the Blade, Balchunis said supports ENDA and pledged to turn up the pressure on Meehan over ENDA if he doesn’t declare his support for the legislation.
“I can support this bill,” Balchunis said. “I do not believe in discrimination against any group of individuals. If Congressman Meehan does not support this legislation, I will call him out on it.”
Strouse similarly said he supports ENDA and passage of the legislation is necessary in the aftermath of U.S. District Judge John Jones III’s ruling in favor of marriage equality in Pennsylvania.
“I absolutely support ENDA, and would work to bring it to a vote by any means,” Strouse said. “On Tuesday the courts rightly struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage equality, yet here in Pennsylvania, LGBT people can still be fired from their jobs because of who they love. This is wrong.”
Strouse added passage of ENDA is “also smart for business” because putting an end to discrimination will make Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district a more attractive place to work for young professionals.
“Congressman Fitzpatrick’s failure to address this issue is only the latest example that he is not a leader who works for the best interests of our district, and lets his partisan ideology get in the way of economic growth,” Strouse said. “When I am elected, I will work to pass ENDA because it’s the right thing to do, and would bring economic growth to our district.”
Neither the office Meehan nor Fitzpatrick responded to multiple requests from the Washington Blade to comment on their position on the ENDA.
But both lawmakers are considered potential supporters of ENDA. Meehan and Fitzpatrick were among the Republicans in the U.S. House who voted last year for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which contained non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
The race between these Republicans and their Democratic challengers could be close. According to a Public Policy Poll published in October 2013, Meehan would lose to a generic Democratic opponent, 40-43, and Fitzpatrick would lose to generic Democratic opponent, 44-46. However, this poll was came out immediately after the government shutdown, so the situation for these Republicans may have improved since then.
The spotlight on Meehan and Fitzpatrick becomes pronounced as LGBT advocates are working to gain Republican support for the legislation in hopes of a House vote on the bill. Currently, the bill has seven Republican co-sponsors: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.).
But even after the Pennsylvania ruling in favor of marriage equality, House Speaker John Boehner continues to be unmoved to bring up ENDA.
Last week during a news conference, the Washington Blade asked Boehner whether Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s decision to allow marriage equality to come to a state without LGBT non-discrimination protections should prompt the Republican-controlled U.S. House to finish the job by passing ENDA. The speaker was succinct in his response.
“I think we’ll leave that decision to the governor of Pennsylvania,” Boehner said.
In December, Corbett in fact came out in support for non-discrimination legislation within his state, saying he mistakenly believed those protections were in already in place at the federal level. His office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether he wants the House to pass on a federal version of non-discrimination protections like ENDA.
The Senate last year passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis. A vote in the House is the only thing keeping the legislation from President Obama’s desk.
It’s possible the Human Rights Campaign could step in to influence the Pennsylvania races on the basis of ENDA. During the last election cycle, the organization endorsed Democratic challengers to the both Republican incumbents in their respective races.
Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, spoke generally about his organization’s endorsement process when asked whether support from ENDA from the two Republicans would prompt HRC to endorse the lawmakers, or stay out of their race altogether.
“We continuously evaluate races as we move through the cycle,” Sainz said. “We will announce endorsements in a manner that’s most impactful to LGBT equality.”