Senator: Government Shouldn’t Prevent Employers From Discriminating Against Gay People

WASHINGTON, DC — Though he insists he holds no personal ill-will towards gays and lesbians, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) sees no need for a law that would make it illegal for bosses to fire someone because of his or her sexual orientation.

In an interview with ThinkProgress at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual conference on Thursday, Johnson argued against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill in the Senate that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. “I don’t particularly like the federal government telling anybody to do anything,” Johnson said. When we asked if he held the same views about laws that protected women and minorities from discrimination, Johnson quickly ended the interview.

KEYES: The Senate this summer is going to be taking up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to fire someone for being gay. Do you know if you’ll be supporting that?

JOHNSON: All I can tell you, in my own business I had a policy of total non-discrimination. We had gay and lesbian individuals working for us.

KEYES: Do you think it should be a law, though?

JOHNSON: Again, I don’t particularly like the federal government telling anybody to do anything.

KEYES: What about for women or minorities?

JOHNSON: We gotta go.

Watch it:

Incidentally, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) ended his interview on ENDA after the same question on Thursday as well.

Workplace discrimination is a major problem for LGBT individuals. Nearly 40 percent of openly LGB employees have been discriminated against in their jobs, as have an astounding 90 percent of transgender workers.


Johnson’s view that it should be legal for businesses to fire workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity puts him squarely out of step with his state. The state of Wisconsin has long had a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation (though not gender identity). In fact, they were the first state to enact such a law when Gov. Lee Dreyfus (R) signed the bill in 1982. Wisconsin also became the first state to elect an openly lesbian candidate to the Senate in 2012.

The fact that Johnson himself does not personally want to fire people for being gay isn’t enough. As a senator, it’s his job to decide what should be illegal in society. After all, few in modern society would argue that businesses should be allowed to fire women for their gender or minorities for their race.