WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor this afternoon in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Speaker, for more than two hundred years, our great nation has fought for and advanced the timeless values and ideals that are embodied in our Constitution: fairness, justice and equality under law.
"And today, through this bipartisan legislation – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – we again take a momentous step in breaking down centuries of rank injustice, unthinking prejudice and unjustified discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans.
"When this Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it prohibited employment discrimination based on race and gender – discrimination that often was open and, far too often, regarded as acceptable.
"Since then, we have expanded the scope of the law’s protection to prohibit employment discrimination based on religion, color, national origin and disability.
"Today, through this historic civil rights legislation, we would simply add sexual orientation as a protected class because – even in 2007 – there is little doubt that gay and lesbian Americans are too often the object of discrimination.
"Mr. Speaker, let us be clear: This legislation is consistent with our values, our ideals and America’s long history of social progress.
"And thus, the question before us today is not only whether we will choose to do the right thing and pass this bill, but whether we will choose to stand on the right side of history?
"This legislation, in fact, is the logical extension of the law in some 20 states that prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. And, I should note that the federal government also bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"Mr. Speaker, as the lead House sponsor of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, I harbor no illusions that this legislation will topple centuries of prejudice overnight – or that we can legislate that prejudice out of existence.
"However, as we have learned through the ADA, we can change attitudes and hearts over time. And, the same is true with this legislation we are debating today.
"This legislation is a vital step in the continuing fight for justice and equality – and thus deserving of our strong support.
"I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle: Stand up for equality in America today. Stand on the side of history. Support this Employment Non-Discrimination Act."