Senate approves ban on employment discrimination against LGBT

The Senate last week approved a measure that would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers or job applicants because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.  

S. 815, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] of 2013, passed the Senate by a vote of 64 to 32.

Ten Republicans – Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) – voted with the Democratic majority approve the measure.

Read more: List of 32 Senate Republicans who voted against ENDA to protect LGBT from employment discrimination

“Let the bells of freedom ring! It’s very exciting to have this powerful bipartisan vote…The Senate has clearly spoken to end discrimination in the workplace,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), the bill’s chief sponsor.

Merkley pointed out that it is legal for employers to discriminate against lesbians, gay, and bisexual job applicants or employees, and 33 states allow workplace discrimination against transgender individuals.

The law, if passed by the House and signed by the President, would bar employers from refusing to hire or discriminate against LGBT individuals in the workplace. Employers also cannot pay LGBT workers less or “limit, segregate, or classify” them in such a way that creates unfavorable or adverse employment conditions.

“It is from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution to our battles over slavery, our battles over gender discrimination, race discrimination, we have fought to capture that vision of equality and liberty and opportunity and fairness embedded in our founding documents and our founding vision. We’ve taken a huge stride today in that direction,” said Merkley.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) said the bill’s passage sends a powerful message of “basic American values of freedom, of fairness, and opportunity.”

“For folks like myself in the LGBT community, the opportunity to be judged in the workplace by your skills and qualifications, your loyalty, your work ethic is an important pronouncement for this nation,” said Baldwin.

The bill would apply to employers (with 15 or more employees), employment agencies, and labor organizations. However, the bill does exempt religious organizations – such as churches, religious corporations, associations, societies, educational institutions and universities – as well as the armed forces from having to comply with the new requirements.

Merkley, along with top Senate Democrats, strongly urged Republican House Speaker John Boehner to bring the bill up for a vote.

“Speaker Boehner has mentioned that he might not bring this up in the House, and I simply call upon him to do so,” said Merkley. “His concern that perhaps other laws govern this, I can assure you they do not. In 29 states, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against our LGBT community. His concern that there would be a flood of lawsuits is easily disproved from studies of the 21 states that have these protections. And certainly, his concern that this would reduce employment is unfounded because when the individual can rise to their full potential in the workplace, then the entire company thrives and that only creates more jobs.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) noted that Boehner’s home state of Ohio is one of the 29 states that allow discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“It is unconscionable that when given an opportunity to right one of these last remaining civil rights issues of our time, Speaker Boehner and those who follow his lead in the House of Representatives are turning their backs. We have an opportunity to outlaw one of the last vestiges of discrimination in the workplace,” said Durbin. 


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