Bill Advances to Outlaw Discrimination Against Gays

From The New York Times:

Published: November 4, 2013

WASHINGTON — A measure that would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity overcame a significant obstacle in the Senate on Monday as seven Republicans crossed party lines and voted to begin debate on the bill.

The 61-30 vote marks the first time since 1996 that the full Senate will consider a measure to extend federal nondiscrimination law to gay, lesbian and bisexual people — a stark reminder, supporters said, that as the public has come around to accepting gay rights, Congress has been slow to keep pace.

It is also the first time that either house of Congress has voted on a nondiscrimination bill that includes transgender people.

Before the vote, supporters spoke of making history. The occasion moved Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois, to make his first speech in the Senate since suffering a stroke last year. None of the Republicans voting against the measure spoke up.

“Here we are today, now taking one more step to make the American family more inclusive,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa. “No one should be discriminated against because of race, sex, religion, national origin, and they shouldn’t be discriminated against because of who they love or who they are.”

Senators are expected to try to amend the bill in the next several days to address Republican concerns. One proposed change would broaden the types of religious groups that are exempt from the bill, and another would make sure religious institutions are not subject to retaliation by the government if they refuse to employ people otherwise covered under the bill.

If one of those amendments is approved, the bill’s sponsors say they are confident they will be able to maintain the level of support — 60 votes — to break a Republican filibuster attempt and pass the measure.

Federal law already protects people from discrimination at work because of race, religion and a number of other factors. But it remains legal in most states to fire or refuse to hire people because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Just 21 states and the District of Columbia offer such protections.

President Obama praised the Senate vote, saying, “Inexorably, the idea of a more tolerant, more prosperous country that offers more opportunity to more people, that’s an idea that the vast majority of Americans believe in.”

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