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July 12, 2013

LGBT job equality bill passes Senate panel 15-7

Washington, D.C.--The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act by a vote of 15 to 7  on July 10, sending it to the full Senate.

All 12 Democrats on the committee voted in favor of ENDA, along with three Republicans--Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark Kirk of Illinois. With Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is one of the bill’s Senate sponsors, four Republicans are now officially in support of the bill.

While the bill stands a good chance of making the 60 votes it needs in the Senate, its fate is far murkier in the House of Representatives, which has a Republican majority.

The New York Times put it relatively bluntly: “It faces an almost certain death in the House, where the Republican leadership has no plans to bring it up.”

The bill is expected to be brought before the entire Senate in the fall, when Congress returns from their August recess.

Murkowski said her support was engendered after hearing from her constituents over the July 4 break, when she received almost 2,000 postcards urging her to vote in favor of the bill.

The only real surprise was Hatch’s support. The Times pointed out that he is a Mormon, but said that the protections in the bill for religious institutions secured his support.

“I appreciate that the authors of the bill were willing to include a robust religious exemption in this bill,” he said in a statement to the Washington Blade. “I voted for it because it prohibits discrimination that should not occur in the workplace, it protects the rights of religious entities, and minimizes legal burdens on employers.”

“Coming on the heels of the landmark Supreme Court marriage rulings, today’s strong, bipartisan vote in favor of expanding workplace non-discrimination protections to include those who are LGBT is yet another sign that the tide has turned,” said Ian Thompson, the legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Advocates have been working for nearly 40 years to pass these basic protections to ensure that all American workers, who stand side-by-side in the workplace and contribute with equal measure in their jobs, will stand on the same equal footing under the law. In 2013, it is completely unacceptable to force individuals to hide who they are out of fear of losing their livelihood.”

“This law is common sense, and supports the basic principles of fairness and equal opportunity that we place at the center of American life,” said Alan van Capelle, the head of Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice organization. “These are values held dear by the American Jewish community as central to our faith. We are proud supporters of LGBT equality and this law takes us another step down that path.”

The ENDA battle continues to be an uphill battle. We know it's good for business, we know it's good for jobs,” said Elyzabeth Holford, executive director of Equality Ohio.

ENDA has been introduced in every legislative session since 1994, with the exception of the 2005-2007 session. In 2007, gender identity and expression were included for the first time, but were later dropped in an attempt to garner more support. It passed the House of Representatives but died in the Senate.

The first such bill was introduced in 1974 by Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch of New York. Then called the “Equality Act,” it would have added sexual orientation to the groups protected in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.















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