The Right to Have a Job : Sexual orientation is not relevant in employment


If you are denied a job because of your race, religion or gender, legal remedies are available to you. The law is on your side. But if you are denied a job because of your sexual orientation, you are without legal remedy in 42 of the 50 states.

Legal remedies would be unnecessary, of course, if discrimination did not occur. But it does occur. When Barbara Boxer was elected to the Senate in 1992, Peter Teague moved from San Francisco to Washington to take a position on her staff. His companion, a lawyer with a thriving practice, went with him expecting to find work easily. Interviews with law firms went well until the inevitable question about why the move had taken place. The answer cooled the initial warmth to “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Teague’s partner now has a job, thanks at least in part to a District of Columbia law that forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. California has such an anti-discrimination law too.

But can protection against job discrimination be extended to all homosexuals as a matter of federal statute? Last month the Human Rights Campaign Fund, an organization defending gay and lesbian equality at the federal level, announced that it had written confirmation from 71 of the 100 U.S. senators that they would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation when hiring for their Senate offices; 234 of 435 U.S. representatives have made the same promise.


These promises undoubtedly reflect the legislators’ conscience on this matter. They should vote their consciences when the Employment Nondiscrimination Act comes before them later this summer. This legislation, which has 32 sponsors in the Senate and 107 in the House, exempts small businesses, religious organizations and the military. It requires no quotas or preferential treatment of any kind. It does not require that employers pay spousal benefits for same-sex partners. It merely requires that no one be denied employment because of sexual orientation.

People should be hired or fired on the basis of their work. The Times urges swift approval of this modest and reasonable measure.