Skip to main content

GOP, be a champion for workplace equality

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sat November 9, 2013
Senate Democrats speak before the final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on November 7.
Senate Democrats speak before the final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on November 7.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Senate passed a law that would end workplace discrimination against gays
  • Donna Brazile says the GOP might thwart the bill in the House
  • She says the Declaration of Independence's stance on equality rings loud and true
  • Brazile: Congressional Republicans should extend equality to all people

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- Even from the moment they were set down in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson's immortal words "all men are created equal" have always been awkward and challenging.

They're not awkward and challenging because they're incorrect. On the contrary, they're some of the truest words ever put to paper. Instead, they're awkward and challenging because -- for a nation built by slaves, where only a fraction of the population owned land and even fewer could vote, where an entire gender was held at bay for centuries -- these words were the sand in our collective eye that urged us, always, to be better, fairer and more decent to one another.

Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln's opponent in the historic debates of 1858, asserted that the Declaration was a contract between Englishmen only. That excluded not only African-Americans and Hispanics but also the Italians, the Swiss, the Asians -- almost anyone but Douglas and a few select friends.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

Lincoln retorted, "Why, according to this, not only negroes but white people outside of Great Britain and America are not spoken of in (the Declaration). ... The French, Germans and other white people of the world are all gone to pot along with the judge's inferior races. I had thought the Declaration promised something better."

Though he lost that race to Douglas, a greater triumph awaited Lincoln. On his way to his presidential Inaugural, Lincoln stopped in Philadelphia's Independence Hall and said, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence."

We are now 237 years into the history of the document that Lincoln so cherished, and even today, Jefferson's words are still awkward and challenging. We are still realizing the potential of "all men are created equal." Equality has come slowly.

Less than a hundred years ago, women were finally constitutionally guaranteed the right to vote. Just five years ago, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to make a serious run at the presidency. This March, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act was approved. Some opposed it or obstructed it because of a provision that would give Indian tribes authority by their own people to bring to justice a perpetrator of violence against a woman. There was also opposition to extending the law to apply to LGBT people and immigrants. Yet despite that opposition, the law finally passed.

This week, the U.S. Senate at long last approved a law that has been before Congress in one form or another for decades. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a simple bill that would outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, protections that are extended to all Americans on the basis of race, age, religion and other categories.

The fact that this law does not already exist for the LGBT community will come as a surprise to many Americans. Eighty percent of the public believes that it is already against the law to fire, or refuse to hire, someone because of their gender orientation or identification. As Americans, we trust that Jefferson's words already apply to everyone, but that dream is not realized.

Now, the Senate has brought us one step closer to that goal, offering sweeping bipartisan endorsement to this bill that is supported by broad majorities of Democratic, independent and Republican voters alike.

But once again, it appears that the House of Representatives is prepared to stand in the way of progress.

Speaker John Boehner said he will probably kill the bill by refusing to bring it to a vote. Boehner's office is offering three key arguments for stopping this civil rights legislation dead, and each one is more phony than the last.

He's called it a job killer. (Why, then, have more than 100 major corporations -- many in the Fortune 500 --endorsed it? And why is the Chamber of Commerce neutral?)

He's said it will increase frivolous lawsuits. (Only if you believe that being able to challenge your boss if he or she fires you strictly because you're gay is "frivolous.")

And his staff has said this problem is already addressed by existing law. (This one's just flat-out phony, and they know it. More than half the states in the country lack these protections.)

Contrast Boehner to another Republican, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who used his first floor speech since suffering a stroke in 2012 to address the issue of workplace discrimination. His speech was halting, but he felt compelled to speak because he "so passionately" believes in equal rights for all.

"I think it's particularly appropriate for an Illinois Republican to speak on behalf of this measure," Kirk said. "In the true tradition of Everett McKinley Dirksen and Abraham Lincoln, men who gave us the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution."

Even now, in 2013, there are those in our society who, like Douglas more than a century and a half ago, cling to a narrow and incomplete view of Jefferson's immortal words and would prefer for only some of us to be granted the full light of equality. But today I still have hope that folks like Kirk on both sides of the aisle, as well as the broad majority of Americans who support this bill, will stand up, like Lincoln before them, and once again expand the circle of liberty to include everyone.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT