WASHINGTON—A Senate committee has approved a controversial bill that would extend special workplace rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) persons.
On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 15-7 to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that has long been a priority for homosexual activists. Three Republicans joined 12 Democrats voting in favor: Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
The bill bans workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. That idea may sound appealing, but conservatives say the law would further sexualize the workplace, lead to costly lawsuits, and infringe on the religious liberty of those who may disagree with the homosexual lifestyle.
“The law unfairly places burdens on employers to know about their employees’ sexual lifestyles and to take that into consideration when making employment decisions,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “[It] even goes so far as to require employers at daycares, public schools, and Christian businesses to change their restroom and shower policies to accommodate men who dress like women and vice-versa.”
Current law prohibits discrimination based on race, age, sex, disability, religion, or national origin. ENDA would add sexual orientation to that list, which proponents say will protect LGBT persons from being fired without cause. Perkins said the legislation will be abused and keep companies from even enforcing reasonable grooming standards.
Gay activists called the vote “historic” and urged passage in the full Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised to bring it up for a vote. ENDA will likely need 60 supporters to fend off a procedural filibuster from Senate conservatives. With three Republicans already supporting the bill and 55 Democrat votes likely, it may have a strong chance of passing in the near future.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the leading national organization advocating for gay marriage, said this week it sent 12,000 constituent contacts to three Republican senators, including Murkowski, urging them to support the measure.
“In each state, we had organizers on the ground, mobilized our members, supporters, and allies with a three-part action alert series, and generated thousands of constituent contacts in support of ENDA,” the HRC wrote on its website.
That push seems to have succeeded with Murkowski, who said she appreciated “the hundreds of Alaskans who shared their thoughts with me and my staff as we considered this bill.”
Supporters hailed the legislation as the first-ever version of ENDA to include provisions for transgendered people.
S. 815 does contain an exemption for religious employers, but opponents say it will be ineffective: “One employee’s sexual preference does not deserve greater protection than a business owner’s exercise of religious liberty,” Perkins said.