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    LGBT Rights Deserve a Debate

    philNo matter how much you’ve been keeping up with politics lately, you know this year’s presidential race is historic. Finally, a female nominee of a major political party is running for the highest office in the land.

    The debates between the candidates, as well as their picks for vice president, have covered the economy, trade, women’s rights, terrorism, climate change, immigration, and criminal justice. But one key issue has been conspicuously absent from the discussion: LGBT rights.

    While many Americans may believe last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing marriage equality was the end all for the LGBT rights movement, there is still so much to do to ensure that the community has the same rights and freedoms other citizens are provided.

    I bet many San Francisco Bay Times readers would like to hear the views of each candidate about the next steps in the equality agenda. I would’ve liked to have heard them debate the establishment of anti-discrimination employment laws for LGBT workers in order to end a strangely unjust paradox confronting same sex couples in most of this country today. Get married on Saturday and risk getting fired on Monday.

    In every state, an employer cannot fire his or her employees on the basis of gender, ethnicity, or religion due to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, employment discrimination is still very much happening for LGBT people. While California has banned employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, most of the nation—an astonishing 28 states—does not.

    In 2014 President Obama extended such employment rights to federal employees and workers at companies contracting with the federal government by issuing an executive order, making history as the first sitting president to extend employment rights to transgender people.

    Why private sector LGBT employees continue to lack nondiscrimination protections should be debated by any candidate for president. It is not a new issue in federal politics. Since 1974 the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been introduced repeatedly in Congress but hasn’t passed. The need to know the precise positions of both presidential candidates on these issues is especially urgent given the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision of two years ago. It established that businesses may fire an employee for being gay or transgender because it is against their religious values.

    This legal premise has since been used by lawmakers in many state legislatures where hundreds of new laws have been considered to justify LGBT discrimination. Such a large bend towards expanding institutionalized discrimination against LGBT people is frightening.

    The deprivation of basic civil rights for millions of Americans is not something to be ignored. Every president takes an oath of office that includes a pledge to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That standard demands a substantial debate of LGBT issues, and I’m disappointed they weren’t given the serious consideration they deserve.

    Civil rights are not something presidents or any elected leader can support part of the time. It’s a full-time job

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City.