Federal ban on gay bias in workplace gains momentum in Senate

Posted by Curtis Tate on October 30, 2013 

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has said he is "inclined" to support the bill. His vote could put it over the top.


A bill to prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation moved closer to Senate approval, gaining support this week from all Democrats and with several Republicans considered likely yes votes.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, has languished in Congress for nearly 20 years. In that span of time, gay rights have advanced in other areas, notably marriage.

No state recognized gay marriage when ENDA was first introduced in 1994. Now 14 states and the District of Columbia do, with more likely to follow.

However, it still remains legal in 29 states to fire someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual solely for that reason, according the the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. In another 33 states, transgender people have no workplace protections.

The law would exempt small businesses and religious organizations and prohibit quotas or preferential treatment. 

While some GOP lawmakers have declined to support ENDA because they fear it could lead to lawsuits and impose costs on businesses, the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce has taken no position on the bill. 

The religious exemption is a sticking point for others, but some Republicans are satisfied with it. The Senate Health, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the legislation in July with three Republican votes: Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Kirk and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine are also ENDA co-sponsors.

The bill would need one more vote to clear the 60-vote procedural hurdle. That vote might be Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who said Tuesday that he's "inclined" to support the bill.

But even if the Democratic-majority Senate approves ENDA by Thanksgiving, its prospects in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives are less certain.

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