WASHINGTON, DC — Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), best known as the “boring” choice atop Mitt Romney’s vice presidential list, told ThinkProgress today that he doesn’t believe it should be illegal to fire someone for being gay because doing so would make businesses less “comfortable.”
In an interview at the Faith & Freedom Conference, Portman explained why he opposes the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban firing someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. “What I’m concerned about in Paycheck Fairness and other legislation like that is the fact that it will spawn a lot of litigation the way the legislation is written,” the Ohio Senator said. He worried that the legislation “would make it more difficult for employers to feel comfortable.”
KEYES: The Senate’s going to be taking up the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. Do you think that it ought to be illegal to fire someone for being gay in the United States?
PORTMAN: I don’t believe in discrimination…
KEYES: But whether or not it should be legal.
PORTMAN: What I’m concerned about in Paycheck Fairness and other legislation like that is the fact that it will spawn a lot of litigation the way the legislation is written. So you don’t want it to be a boon to lawyers, you want it to actually help people. But no one should discriminate.
KEYES: So you’re worried that people might actually take up claims that they were discriminated against?
PORTMAN: [...] A lot of them would create a lot of legal rights of action that would make it more difficult for employers to feel comfortable, to be able to hire, and to keep this economy moving. So you have to be careful how you do it.
Portman’s principal objection to making it illegal to fire someone for being gay, in other words, is that people who are discriminated against might have the gall to take legal action.
Portman was correct about one thing: if Congress were to finally make it illegal to fire someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, a lot of lawsuits could ensue. That’s only a bad thing if one wants to preserve businesses’ ability to discriminate. Lawsuits are the sole mechanism by which most laws are enforced in this country. Without lawsuits, the South would still be segregated, ten year-olds would still work in mines, and there would be no minimum wage. Research shows that 42 percent of LGB workers and 90 percent of transgender workers have experienced workplace discrimination. Unless people can take action in court, Portman’s feel-good belief that “no one should discriminate” is meaningless.
Over 70 percent of Americans support legislation protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination, and 9 in 10 mistakenly believe that a federal law doing so already exists. Unfortunately, the frontrunner to be the Republican vice presidential nominee is not among them.