Nation & World News

Senate Approves Bill To Add Sexual Orientation To Work Protections

By Bill Chappell on November 8th, 2013

The Senate has approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which gives workplace protections to workers and job applicants who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The bill would apply to any private employer that has more than 15 employees; it includes an exemption for religious groups.

The measure adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics that cannot be discriminated against in the workplace passed by a vote of 64-32 — a slightly stronger showing than an earlier vote to move forward on the legislation, which passed 61-30.

The bill, widely referred to as ENDA, was introduced with the support of a bipartisan group, including Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Republican Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine.

“Everyone, gay or straight, should have the right to work hard and earn a living,” Merkley said in a statement issued after Monday’s cloture vote. “Unfortunately, in 29 states you can still be fired for who you are and who you love. That is just plain wrong.”

ENDA is not expected to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner has voiced his opposition to the measure.

Update at 4 p.m. ET: Reaction From ACLU, And More On The Exception

“In a year of historic victories for LGBT people, this one ranks near the top,” says Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Getting ENDA across the finish line in the Senate after a nearly four-decade-long journey is a huge win for all who believe that workers should be judged on the job by their merits, nothing more and nothing less.”

As we’ve noted, the bill provides exemption for religious groups. It was also the subject of two major amendments this week.

One attempt came from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would have expanded the religious exemption further; that add-on was voted down.

Another amendment would prevent the federal government from retaliating against religious groups “that don’t hire someone because of sexual orientation or identity,” as The Hill reports. That amendment, introduced by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was approved by voice vote.

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