Gay rights legislation gains bipartisan support

Act would bar employers from discriminating on basis of sexual orientation, gender identity
Associated Press
Nov 2, 2013

Gay rights advocates from both parties are newly upbeat about the prospects for Senate passage of legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The outlook for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act reflects the nation's growing tolerance of homosexuality and the GOP's political calculation as it looks for supporters beyond its core base of older voters.

The first test vote is Monday.

"I think society continues to evolve on the issue of gay rights," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a co-sponsor of the measure. "As more and more gay individuals are open about their sexual orientation, people come to realize that they are their neighbors, their family members, their friends, their co-workers. That's made a big difference."

Opinion polls underscore Collins' assessment.

A Pew Research survey in June found that more Americans said homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged by society by a margin of 60 percent to 31 percent. Opinions were more evenly divided 10 years ago.

In a sign of the times, the anti-bias legislation has traditional proponents such as the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, plus the backing of a relatively new group, the American Unity Fund. That organization has the financial support of big-name Republican donors — hedge fund billionaires Paul Singer, Cliff Asness, Dan Loeb and Seth Klarman — and former GOP lawmakers Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Tom Reynolds of New York.

"Most conservatives believe people in the workforce should be judged on their merits," said Jeff Cook-McCormac, a senior adviser to the fund, which has focused on gay rights initiatives in New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware. "They shouldn't be judged on characteristics that are irrelevant in a productive employee."

Current federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race and national origin. But it doesn't stop an employer from firing or refusing to hire workers solely because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

The bill would bar employers with 15 or more workers from using a person's sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for making employment decisions, including hiring, firing, compensation or promotion.

The Senate vote would come five months after Supreme Court rulings affirming gay marriage and granting federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. It would be the first major piece of gay rights legislation since Congress repealed the ban on gays serving openly in the military in December 2010.

Collins said the military's relatively smooth implementation of that law despite dire warnings have made Americans more receptive to the nondiscrimination law.

"People intuitively think that it is unfair to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation," said Collins, who led the fight on gays in the military. "Just as it would be unfair to refuse to hire or fire them based on religion or race or gender. In fact, when I talk to constituents, they're surprised that it's still legal under federal law."

The measure faces strong opposition from established conservative groups such as the Family Research Council. That group says the bill carves out special protections for sexual orientation, would lead to expensive lawsuits against employers, and could undercut the ability of employers to establish reasonable standards for dress and grooming.

Heritage Action said Friday that the bill would "severely undermine civil liberties ... and trample on religious liberty" while potentially undermining job creation. The conservative organization called for a vote against the bill and said it would record the vote on its legislative scorecard.

It is unclear whether Republican leaders in the House will even bring the bill up for a vote after the Senate acts.

On Monday, the Senate plans a test vote, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has made it clear he expects to get the necessary 60 votes to move ahead on the legislation.

All 55 members of the Senate's Democratic majority are expected to vote "yes" on the test vote, along with four Republicans — Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and the measure's co-sponsors, Illinois' Mark Kirk and Collins.

Proponents are optimistic that four other Republicans also will support moving ahead: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The Senate could complete the bill by week's end.

The evolution and changing views on gay rights are evident in the senators now expressing support.

In September 1996, the Senate narrowly rejected a similar measure on a 50-49 vote. That bill did not include protections for transgender people. Voting against it were Hatch and then-Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski, father of Lisa Murkowski. Subsequent efforts over the next 17 years to secure Senate passage of the bill faltered.

This past July, Hatch, Kirk and Lisa Murkowski backed the bill when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, endorsed the measure 15-7.

"I think that this issue is not so much a Democrat-Republican issue, although more Democrats are for it of course, as it is an age issue," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "You'll find a lot of young people who are very conservative are much more pro-gay rights. There are some who would not support marriage but would support anti-discrimination. For those two reasons, I think we have a good chance of it passing."

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have approved laws banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 17 of those also prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender identity.

About 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies have already adopted nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign. About 57 percent of those companies include gender identity.

Comments

bondgirlM

Portman is making a mistake.

rottnrog

I suppose you don't think women or blacks should vote either ?

Jmschmidt812

Do you know Mr. Portmans son is gay? So how would you expect him to vote?

mikesee

His son came out of the closet.

Cold day in he11 when someone tells me who I can hire with MY money.

SamAdams

I'm sure not going to argue against the idea that merit is what should count on the job rather than other factors such as skin color or sexual orientation. What I WILL argue, however, is that behavior applies to the merit part of performance.

I wouldn't be inclined to deal with an "in-your-face" homosexual any more than I want to deal with an "in-your-face" evangelist. Both have every right to be as they are, but it infringes MY rights when I'm browbeaten by either of them! Additionally, other things (whether we like it or not) ALSO apply. For example:

Most of us wouldn't want to use a hairdresser with a hairstyle we thought was a nightmare, and most of us wouldn't want to have our kids' babysitter swearing like a sailor. Most of us wouldn't want our lawyer to show up in court wearing sandals and wreaking of marijuana, and most of us wouldn't be too keen on hiring an interior decorator who dressed (in our opinion, of course) like a hot mess.

The bottom line is simple enough: We ALL engage in discrimination every day simply by choosing those who offer us service at least in part by appearance and behavior. These things DO matter! And whatever you do on your own time (which is your own dam*ed business), how you behave on the job, and how you appear on the job, are part and parcel of how well you can DO the job.

Laws like this one are going to make it very difficult to fire (or not hire) someone who happens to be homosexual IN ADDITION to whatever behavior it is that's objectionable in that particular field of employment! Along with constant cries of "racist, racist!" we're going to start hearing "homophobe, homophobe!" and it won't matter whether the accusations are true or not. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a pretty nasty piece of discrimination in action, too!

The Big Dog's back

sam, all those things you mentioned, DON'T DO THEM. Why do you want to take other people's rights away?

SamAdams

You're right where all of those things are concerned, and I DON'T go to a hairdresser with awful hair or hang out with the fundamentally religious on a mission to convert me. But what, then, of the employer who's FORCED to hire a hairdresser with awful hair, an evangelist, or, in this case (for example), a gay man who dresses like a woman every day?

I don't CARE if the hairdresser has blue-and-green spiky hair. I don't CARE if the religious family goes to church umpteen times a week. And I don't CARE if the man dresses in a skirt and high heels. But I DO care if I have no choice but to pay those same people for whatever service I happen to need/want at the time, and I DO care if I have no choice but to hire those people for whatever service I happen to PROVIDE! (NOTE the operative word: CHOICE. You suggest I want to take other people's rights away, but the reality is the rights are being taken away from those who AREN'T given the choice.)

ADDED NOTE: The latter is kind of an unfair example where I'm personally concerned since the best hairdresser I ever had was a blatantly gay man and, if he was anywhere in the area anymore, I'd STILL be going to him. But some clientele in some venues have issues with that sort of thing -- the same man as a church secretary, for example, might not be quite so appreciated!

The Big Dog's back

So when you are lying in a coma in the hospital and your bills are piling up and you don't have proper insurance, who pays?

SamAdams

I have no problem with a gay nurse. That's what you're asking in connection with a story about homosexual rights...right?

The Big Dog's back

So you are OK with getting blood from a gay?

SamAdams

Sure. Why wouldn't I be?

2cents

Equal rights for all, no bills needed!
If you bozos in DC do not do anything but pass stupid bills there will be no jobs for anyone to get hired, waste some more tax payers money.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

2cents, are you indicating that a relative handful of people who never can/will know you, your life, your business, or your town/state (and who probably have had limited if any experience in a private setting) CAN'T make better decisions for you than yourself?

Careful...dissent against this Congress/White House isn't taken too kindly.

Sarcasm aside and not necessarily addressing you specifically, I can't fathom how this is even an issue. What kind of underwear you wear or who you go home to at night has no bearing on how productive you are at work. It is already irrelevant. What isn't is when the personal beliefs, expressions, or lifestyles of people are brought into work where it doesn't belong.

If a workplace forbids tattoos or certain piercings (as Cedar Point's grooming guidelines do, for example) it won't be that you don't get hired as a gay person with a rainbow flag or equal sign on your wrist any more than if you had a flaming skull with a well-endowed naked lady riding it.

That is the risk/reward of such expressions and lifestyles. I certainly don't judge those who live life differently (I am surrounded by them every day), but you can be the nicest girl in the world but that neck tattoo that you enjoy doesn't mean others (including employers) will. A heavy lisp at an interview, whether the prospect is gay or not, may imperil chances to be hired because it affects the ability to communicate clearly. Coming in smelling of tobacco or other smoke (or alcohol) would have a similar effect.

kURTje

Ha ha. Shades of Barry Goldwater. GOPers lie the best!

thinkagain

According to 1st Corinthians 6:9-10, homosexuals will not be allowed into Heaven. For that matter, no sinners will be allowed into Heaven. The only hope is through the blood of Jesus Christ which washes our sins away.

There is nothing gay about living a sinful life.

Call them what they are…Sodomites.

When Sodomites start marching down main street it simply reveals how low-down the morals in this nation have plunged.

SamAdams

"Judge not, lest ye be..."

On the other hand, the same book also says that rabbits chew cud, bats are birds, it's a sin to wear clothing made of mixed fibers, and only 144,000 will be permitted entrance into heaven (true story, look it up).

Oh, wait. You're not picking and CHOOSING which parts are relevent, ARE you???

thinkagain

Nice try Satan. I’ve found a way to get non-Christians to quote the Bible! Just pick a controversial action where community opinion is different from the Bible and declare it to be a sin. I always get a chuckle when the godless, biblical illiterates, mangle the Bible in response.

The most quoted, taken out of context verse in the Bible, is Matthew 7:1, "Judge not that ye be not judged." Reading the entire passage 1-5, it is clearly a condemnation of hypocrisy, not judgment.

"Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?" 1 Cor 6:3.

SamAdams

It is, indeed, a condemnation of hypocrisy (though the Bible also makes it abundantly clear that judgment is GOD'S job, not man's). It also happens to dovetail rather nicely with the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" story, don't you think?

This isn't about an opinion on my part OR on yours. You're quite welcome to take the Bible as literally as you wish, including the parts that prohibit homosexuality. But if you're going to use the Bible as your authority, you might want to actually CONSIDER it an authority and love the sinner even as you hate the sin (oh, darn it! THAT'S in the Bible, TOO!)

thinkagain

I’ve successfully educated you on the meaning on Matthew 7:1-5, so now you resort to false accusations and vague innuendo?

Christians who proclaim the truth that homosexuality is a sin are homosexuals' best friends, whether those in the homosexual community feel that way or not.

We who have experienced the great love of the Father want to share His love with others. For the Christian, reaching the lost is a labor of love for our fellow man. Would it be an act of love to hide the Truth?

SamAdams

Oh, I guess I misunderstood. I was blissfully unaware that wanting to "share His love with others" means that those others should be deprived of basic (God-given) liberties until such time as they, too, "see the light." Consider me corrected!

P.S. Know another super interesting story in the Bible? It has to do with the man who prays in secrecy being far holier than the one who prays in public. What a great book, eh?

thinkagain

Keep on mangling, I’ll keep chuckling. ✞

44846GWP

thinkagain, I don't think god is going to let racisit bigots into Heaven either. So don't get your hopes up.