Politics

Congressman Says Everyone Should Be Free To Smoke And Fire Gay People

CREDIT: Shutterstock

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—At a recent town hall in Charlotte’s suburbs, North Carolina House Republican Robert Pittenger compared the right to fire LGBT workers to the right to smoke cigarettes on private property.

After assuring ThinkProgress that he “respects everyone” and “loves people,” Pittenger said he believes companies should have the right to fire or refuse to hire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“You need to respect the autonomy of somebody running their business,” he said. “It’s like smoking bans. Do you ban smoking or do people have the right to private property? I think people have the right to private property. In public spaces, absolutely, we can have smoking bans. But we don’t want to micromanage people’s lives and businesses. If you have a business, do you want the government to come in and tell you you need to hire somebody? Why should government be there to impose on the freedoms we enjoy?”

Though North Carolina is one of 29 states where bosses can still fire someone for being LGBT or merely perceived as such, Pittenger asserted: “I believe people are already protected.”

The freshman congressman said that’s why he is opposed to passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA for short, which would make it illegal for companies and unions to hire, fire, promote, or compensate people differently based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The protections in the bill—which passed the Senate nearly a year ago—would not apply to religious organizations, members of the armed forces, or companies with fewer than 15 employees.

But Pittenger—who is running unopposed—isn’t likely to have the chance to cast a yea or nay vote on the legislation anytime soon, as House Speaker John Boehner has said there is “no way” he will bring it to the floor for debate.

A vote is even less likely in the few weeks between Congress’ return from a five week summer recess, and its impending fall recess for lawmakers to return to their districts to campaign for the midterm elections.

Earlier this year, President Obama signed an executive order extending employment protections to LGBT workers for all companies with federal government contracts. The new regulations will reach over one million LGBT workers across the country, but millions of people in North Carolina and across the country remain unprotected.

As many as 43 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination in the workplace.