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Equal Pay Legislation Fails while the Battle to Close the Wage Gap Continues


by Megan Smith

Two executive actions and one more failed act later, the war being waged on women’s equal pay continues.

April 8 marked Equal Pay Day—the point in 2014 to which the average woman needed to work beyond December 31 in order to match the 2013 wages of the average man. In recognition of this day, President Obama signed an executive order and a presidential memorandum aimed at narrowing the gender gap in which, the White House reports, women earn only 77 cents to every dollar that men earn. The order prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their salaries with one another, while the memorandum orders new rules for contractors to file data with the federal government showing how they compensate employees, including by sex and race.

“This is not just an issue of fairness, it’s a family issue,” Obama said. “It’s also a family issue and economic issue, because women make up about half of our workforce. And they’re increasingly the breadwinners for a whole lot of families out there. So when they make less money, it means less money for gas, less money for groceries, less money for child care, less money for college tuition.”

Many argue that lesbians, being two-women households, are even more affected by this wage gap. Additionally, 49 percent of lesbians report that they are raising at least one child, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

The president also took time on Equal Pay Day to urge the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would “update the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a law that has not been able to achieve its promise of closing the wage gap because of limited enforcement tools and inadequate remedies,” the ACLU reported. This act would make changes to the law including—but not limited to—permitting reasonable comparisons between employees within clearly defined geographical areas to determine fair wages; requiring employers to demonstrate that wage differentials are based on factors other than sex; and strengthening penalties for equal pay violations.

However, Obama’s efforts seem to have been in vain—on April 9, the act failed at the hands of a GOP filibuster. According to BBC News, supporters in the Senate fell six votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to a final up-or-down vote for passage, with all Republicans opposing the bill.

“Republicans in Congress continue to oppose serious efforts to create jobs, grow the economy, and level the playing field for working families,” Obama said in a statement. “That’s wrong, and it’s harmful for our national efforts to rebuild an economy that gives every American who works hard a fair shot to get ahead.”

“Are they so repulsed by equal pay for hardworking women that they’ll obstruct equal pay for equal work?” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked. “I’m at a loss as to why anyone would decline to debate this important issue.”

But Republicans view the act as “a desperate political ploy, and Democrats are cynically betting that Americans aren’t smart enough to know better,” Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, told the Washington Post. She added that it “cuts flexibility in the workplace for working moms and ends merit pay that rewards good work—the very things that are important to us.”

Exactly a week after a vote on the act was blocked in the Senate, Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the “pro-family” organization Eagle Forum, further fueled the debate surrounding the act by claiming that providing women with equal pay for equal work would deter their chances of finding a “suitable mate”—a story that went viral on social media. “While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship,” Schlafly wrote. “Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.”

Democrats and Republicans can both agree that the issue is far from over—Senate Majority Leader Reid has already indicated he is open to pressing the act again, and both parties anticipate the issue to be prominent in the mid-term elections, according to NPR. But as the constant political tug-of-war over the wage gap continues, it leaves many with a sentiment similar to that of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s—“I honestly can’t believe that we’re still arguing over equal pay in 2014.”


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Megan Smith

Megan Smith is the Assistant Editor for OutSmart Magazine.

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