As we debated -- and ultimately passed -- the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) this week, I discovered something fascinating: Americans were frankly surprised to learn that in the majority of states, it's still perfectly legal to fire someone because they're gay. You can be a hard worker, show up on time, and get exemplary performance reviews, but in 33 states in this country, you can still be fired if your boss discovers that you're gay or transgender, and there's nothing you can do about it.
In fact, in one recent poll, eight in 10 Americans believe that it is already illegal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It's not. But just the fact that a vast majority of Americans think ENDA is already the law is evidence of how obviously right it is that we finish the job and make ENDA the law.
After decades of struggle, we have achieved a number of huge victories in rapid succession-ending Don't Ask Don't Tell; overturning the federal ban on same-sex marriage; the achievement of marriage equality in an increasing number of states, including this year in my home state of Minnesota.
Equality in the workplace is something Minnesota achieved two decades ago when we outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. At the time, only a few states prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Minnesota was the first to include protections for transgender workers.
For LGBT Minnesotans, having that law in place has meant that they don't have to live in fear of being fired, or discriminated against in hiring, just because of who they are, or whom they love. But if you're an LGBT American living in one of the states without these protections, very little has changed.
Some in Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner, oppose ENDA because, they claim, it will cause frivolous lawsuits and hurt businesses. The Minnesota experience shows that those fears are unfounded. There has not been a flood of lawsuits, because the rights of LGBT Minnesotans are widely respected. And, as home to 19 Fortune-500 companies, Minnesota has become an ever better place to work and do business.
Last year, a vice president from Minnesota-based General Mills, one of the world's largest food companies with 35,000 employees, explained to a Senate committee why the company supports extending the same legal protections that Minnesotans enjoy to workers across America, saying the company's policy of inclusion has contributed to its innovation and growth.
"Employees who are members of the GLBT community are incredible contributors to our enterprise," he told the committee. "Absent their unique perspectives, talents, and gifts, we would be less competitive and successful. Simply said, talent matters. Now more than ever, American business needs to leverage the ingenuity of all sectors for our nation. Discriminatory barriers to top talent just don't make business sense."
Many other large Minnesota-based employers -- Target, Supervalu, U.S. Bancorp, Xcel Energy, Medtronic, 3M, Cargill, Best Buy -- have benefited from having similar company-wide policies in place.
Minnesota's small businesses also have seen benefits. Nancy Lyons, who owns a small, 70-person Minneapolis software business says that the protections and peace of mind that her employees get from not living in fear positively impacts every aspect of their lives, from their productivity at work to their family lives.
It is long past time that LGBT employees around the country be guaranteed the same rights that they have had in Minnesota for 20 years. In Minnesota, our law has given LGBT Minnesotans peace of mind and freedom from discrimination at work and improved the overall climate in our state for those individuals, for families, and for businesses.
Americans should cheer the Senate passage of ENDA this week, and the incredible progress we have made in recent years on LGBT rights across the country. So Mr. Speaker, what are you waiting for?