Congress should listen to voters

On Monday, Senate voted to begin debate on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. The legislation, which failed to pass in 1996, would make it illegal for a workplace to discriminate in hiring and employment on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Senate needed 60 supporting votes in order to overcome a probable Republican filibuster. As of Sunday, they were still one vote shy of majority support. According to The Washington Post, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) became that 60th vote early on Monday.

The issue surrounding this legislation is not one of workplace discrimination. Obviously a person’s work rights should not be infringed upon because of their sexual  or gender preferences. The real issue is how hard it was to get supporting votes when the majority of the United States’ population showed support for the bill, or one similar to it.

According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Center for American Progress, there is high support for legislation like this on a national scale. In 2011, their data showed 73 percent of voters support measures protecting the LGBT population from workplace discrimination.

Even demographics that are traditionally expected to be unfavorable to gay and transgender people showed support for the legislation. Catholic support for workplace equality was at 74 percent, and senior citizen support was at 61 percent.

So why the lack of support by our elected officials? Supporting votes in Congress should be roughly proportional to the levels of citizen support. If not nationally, then by state. According to The Washington Post, majorities in all 50 states support legislation similar to the ENDA. Support ranges from a low of 63 percent in Mississippi to a high of 81 percent in Massachusetts.

Doesn’t that mean, ideally, every single Senator should have voted “aye” on the ENDA? Representatives are voted into office by the public. They have a responsibility to who they serve — us.

It is no surprise the Republican party was against the legislation. According to The Washington Post, historically, for a male Republican to have a 50 percent probability of casting a pro-gay vote, his voters need to show at least a 66 percent support level. That means even if more than the basic majority of people support the legislation, the congressman will back it only half the time. The odds are better when it is a female Republican senator, but the party is mostly male.

Sen. Heller made the right decision when he cast the 60th vote in favor of the EDNA. Although he is a Republican, and the bill might go against his personal beliefs, more than 70 percent of the people of Nevada showed support for it, according to The Washington Post. He listened to the people he was representing and voted accordingly.

The same cannot be said for Wisconsin’s Republican senator, Ron Johnson. Although Wisconsin support for the bill was at a whopping 74 percent, Johnson still voted against it, according to The New Civil Rights Movement website.

Many checks and balances are built into the U.S. government to keep it from becoming tyrannical. One of those checks needs to be the public itself. If our senator is ignoring a 74 percent level of support in order to serve his own beliefs, what else will he blow off?

It is a representative’s job to listen to the population they serve and promote that population’s wants and opinions, rather than promoting his or her own. That’s how democracy works. But, on the other hand, it is our job to keep them accountable to us. The ENDA is just one example of representatives not taking their constituents’ views into consideration. When that happens, it is our job to get them out of office by voting for someone else at the next election.