A senate committee Wednesday advanced the latest version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits business from discriminating against potential employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill was passed 15-7 by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP. The measure had the support of all 12 Democrats and three Republicans: Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
Prior to the vote, HELP chair Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said it was “time, long past time” to take a stand against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workplace discrimination.
“Qualified workers should not be turned away or have to fear losing their livelihood for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications, skills or performance,” Harkin said. “Let’s not mince words — such practices are un-American. They should have no plans in any American workplace.”
“I appreciate that the authors of the bill were willing to include a robust religious exemption in this bill,” Hatch 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 it minimizes legal burdens on employers.”
Murkowski said, “discrimination should never be tolerated in the workplace,” but also said the bill could be improved.
It “might be in order in the form of floor amendments,” she said.
President Barack Obama was happy to see the bill gain bipartisan support.
“The president has long supported an inclusive ENDA, which would enshrine into law strong, lasting and comprehensive protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a statement. “We look forward to the full Senate’s consideration of ENDA, and continue to urge the House to move forward on this bill that upholds America’s core values of fairness and equality.”
“As you saw, we had some very key Republicans on the committee, and that will be very helpful,” Harkin said. “As I said, I think society is there, and the things that have recently happened with the Supreme Court decision and others, I think we’re ready to move on in a way that we haven’t been ready move on in the past. Keep your fingers crossed.”