Senate passes bill to ban discrimination against gay workers

WASHINGTON Thu Nov 7, 2013 5:26pm EST

1 of 2. U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) (L) celebrates with supporters after a vote to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation to ban workplace discrimination against gays, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington November 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-led Senate, reflecting a major shift in the past decade in public opinion, passed a bipartisan bill on Thursday to outlaw discrimination against gay workers. But the measure faces an uphill struggle in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

The bill cleared the Senate 64-32, with 10 Republicans joining 52 Democrats and two independents in voting "yes."

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 has become the latest battleground in an ideological fight within the Republican Party. An increasing number of Republicans support gay rights, but conservative groups threaten to challenge many of those who support the White House-backed bill.

Critics complain that the legislation represents an unwarranted federal intrusion in the workplace that would force employers to violate religious beliefs in deciding whom to hire.

Backers say legislation would protect people to be able to love whom they choose without the fear of losing their job.

Unlike a decade ago, when gay rights was a "wedge-issue" used to rally conservative voters, most Americans, including most Republicans, now support gay rights, polls show.

Senate passage of the non-discrimination bill came 19 years after such legislation was first introduced in Congress.

"This is a historic victory and shows that the country is moving forward," said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Said Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, "All Americans have the right to pursue the American dream."

But House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, has declared his opposition, expressing fear the measure would trigger lawsuits that would hurt businesses and cost jobs.

Backers of the legislation reject concerns about lawsuits, noting that it has not been a problem for states that have adopted similar laws in recent years.

The Senate bill would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Existing federal law already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.

As of April, 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies already had non-discrimination policies for sexual orientation, and 57 percent had such policies for gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

'GENERATIONAL THING'

At this point, there are no plans to bring the Senate bill up for a House vote, but Republican leaders will face pressure to do so, including from members of their own party.

A number of Republican strategists are convinced that their party must embrace gay rights for its own political good.

"It's largely a generational thing," said one party strategist. "Younger Republicans see no reason to discriminate against gays. They have friends who are gay."

Regardless, this strategist, asking not to be identified by name, said he expects Boehner to stand firm against the bill, reflecting the sentiment of older fellow House conservatives.

"Eventually the bill will pass the House. But not this year," the strategist said.

The Human Rights Campaign is part of a coalition seeking passage. Others include Project Right Side, a gay rights group founded by Ken Mehlman, a former chairman of the Republican Party, and TargetPoint Consulting, a Republican polling firm.

Alex Lundry, TargetPoint's chief data scientist, said over the past 10 years support for gay rights has risen in every demographic group.

"Americans are ready for this to happen," Lundry said.

Fred Sainz, an HRC vice president, said his group helped win over eight senators, Democrats and Republicans, with campaigns in seven states, and now will focus on House members.

"It's our job to make it happen," Sainz said.

HRC President Chad Griffin, on a visit to the Capitol for the Senate vote, tweeted: "Note to Speaker Boehner: Turn on C-Span 2 (the TV station that covers the Senate). This is what democracy looks like."

It is unclear how the battle will unfold in the 435-member House. A total of 193 House members, including five Republicans, have signed onto the legislation. Twenty-five more are needed to reach 218, the simple majority required for passage.

Backers may try to force a vote by signing a petition or by offering the bill as an amendment to must-pass legislation, such as a defense spending bill.

(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Sandra Maler and Vicki Allen)

(This story was refiled to fix wording in the fourth paragraph - "an unwarranted" rather than "an warranted")

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Comments (35)
QuidProQuo wrote:
I have no issue with making sure hateful actions stay out of the workforce, but i take issue with this law. It’s totally an arbitrary law. If passed, only large corporations will have to follow the law. Small busineses and the military get an “exemption”. Of all areas of our national representation of beings, the military that supposedly fights to defend liberties, should be the FIRST place that is required to embrace this law. I don’t like laws that have exceptions. A law regarding this so called discrimination issue should have NO exceptions. The idea that only big corporations hire humans that are gay or transgender is ludicrous. So this law needs to be equally and fairly made to apply to every single employer in America- big, little, government and military.
ABSOLUTELY NO EXCEPTIONS OR DON’T EVEN BOTHER MAKING IT A LAW!

Nov 07, 2013 2:45pm EST  --  Report as abuse
gcf1965 wrote:
I am for protecting anyone from workplace discrimination, except those convicted of crimes, especially in an industry they are seeking a job in. However, having worked with openly homosexual people in the past (I hate that they have hijacked the term gay) it is my experience that they are the most open and blatant sexual harassers. Anyone who might have seen The Voice this season can relate that to the homesexual kid that on stage in front of the cameras was committing what would be viewed in any workplace as unwanted sexual advances and by any heterosexual would be grounds for dismissal or criminal prosecution. Please, go to work, do a good job, but if you feel the need to flaunt your sexuality as is so often the case, don’t cry discrimination when you get canned and put out on the street, but I know many do and will continue to do so because they are, like other protected groups, not looking for equality but for special privilege

Nov 07, 2013 2:50pm EST  --  Report as abuse
chekovmerlin wrote:
Wouldn’t it be marvelous if Representatives and Senators would vote their conscience without worrying about the next election? If they would think of the people in the country rather than selfishly thinking of themselves and staying in office. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Nov 07, 2013 3:07pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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