Senate approves bill that prohibits discrimination against LGBT workers

Washington — The Senate voted by a 2-1 margin Thursday to pass civil-rights legislation that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but the House Republican majority has no plans to take up a bill that’s been before Congress in various forms for 17 years.

Ten Republicans joined all Democrats, including Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, in voting 64-32 to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Federal law, enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission already bars employers from discriminating  on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age or disability.

But, in a  way, the Senate bill is trying to play catch up with Connecticut and 20 other states that for years have extended  workplace protection to the LGTB community.

“Connecticut has been a test case for these protections for sexual orientation and gender identity,” said  Murphy. “The parade of horrible consequences that opponents of this bill say will happen just have not happened in Connecticut.”

Opponents of the bill said it would result in costly, frivolous lawsuits and mandate federal law based on sexuality.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would offer, for the first time, protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in 29 states.

Since Connecticut already offers protections, ENDA  would offer an alternative way for LGBT individuals to file discrimination complaints , said Bruce Bell, Legal InfoLine Manager at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a civil rights organization based in Massachusetts.

If ENDA becomes law “you can file with the state of Connecticut, the federal government or both,” Bell said.

Both ENDA and Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law requires all those with a workplace complaint to a commission and perhaps go through an arbitration process before filing a lawsuit.

“The advantage of these commissions is that they don’t cost anything,” Bell said.

Both Connecticut’s law, first approved in 1991 and amended in 2011 to add transgendered individuals, and ENDA contain provisions that exempt religious organizations from the law.

“If a priest who is gay is fired, he could not file a complaint,” Bell said.

The religious exemption was added to ENDA in an amendment sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayote, R-N.H. and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and helped convince several GOP colleagues, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, to support the bill.

ENDA differs from Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law in that it requires a complainant to work in a place with at least 15 employees. Connecticut’s law requires a workplace to have only three workers.

 The Family Research Council was among the conservative groups lobbying against ENDA.

“Perceived gender identity status does not require sex-change surgery, so ENDA would allow some biological males (who claim to be female) to enter and even appear nude before females in bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. Situations like this have already been reported in several states with ENDA like laws such as Maine, Colorado and California,” and FRA statement said.

But in the end, supporters of ENDA out-lobbied and outspent their opponents.

House Speaker John Boehner said he will not bring ENDA up for a vote.

But Senate approval of the bill is still a victory for  gay rights advocates just months after the Supreme Court affirmed gay marriage and granted federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

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