Senate passes gay-rights bill to prevent workplace discrimination

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The Senate passed a bill Thursday that aims to prevent discrimination against gay and transgender employees, though that only sends the measure to the House where Republican leaders have said the bill is not going anywhere.

Ten Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the proposal 64-32, which marked the first major piece of legislation involving gay rights since Congress repealed the policy barring open gays from serving in the military.

President Obama celebrated the bill’s passage, saying it will stop Americans from being denied a job or fired just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — though his excitement was tempered by the fact the bill is not coming to his desk for his signature any time soon.

“One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do,” Mr. Obama said. “Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, have signaled the bill is dead on arrival in the House and warned that the proposal would lead to “frivolous lawsuits” and kill jobs. Socially conservative groups have also painted the proposal as anti-family.

Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper said Thursday that “The bill is currently not scheduled in the House.”

Pro-gay group GetEQUAL, which criticized the Senate bill as too generous with religious-freedom protections, called on Mr. Obama to get around opposition from the House GOP by ordering that no company can do business with the U.S. government if it doesn’t “voluntarily” adopt the bill’s provisions.

“As we wait for Speaker Boehner to move this bill forward, it is imperative for President Obama to lead by example, and to sign his name to an Executive Order that would protect nearly 25 percent of this country’s workforce from workplace discrimination,” the group said.

The White House has not ruled out the possibility of Mr. Obama using his executive power and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democat, suggested that is one way to get around Congress.

“I don’t know what authority and power he has, but I’m sure he’s exercised his administrative authority on previous occasions when we had legislative logjams,” Mr. Reid said. “That’s what the Senate Republicans and certainly the Republicans in the House better come to realize. There’s more than one way of skinning a cat.”

The vote Thursday on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act came after the Senate rejected a stronger religious freedom amendment by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, that would have expanded the types of organizations exempted under the law.

However, the final bill included an amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, that passed by voice vote Wednesday. It says the government cannot retaliate against religious organizations exempted under the bill by withholding grants, contracts or tax exemptions.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, knocked the Senate for passing the bill, warning that ENDA would “lead to a form of reverse discrimination.”

“Anyone who expresses or promotes a view of family or morality that can be interpreted to be a disapproval of homosexual or transgender conduct will be subject to retaliation and discrimination,” he said.

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