- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

Legislation to ban workplace discrimination against homosexuals is headed to the Senate floor after being approved yesterday by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's committee.

The measure, which would prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation, is a priority for Senate Democrats who do not know when it will be considered. Mr. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, wants to bring it up before the end of the year.

Some conservatives criticized the measure which passed the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee by voice vote yesterday as unnecessary and burdensome.

"I have a lot of concerns about the bill," said committee member Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. "It has the potential of resulting in a lot of unnecessary, excessive litigation."

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, agreed, saying, "We all want to end discrimination but by putting the onus on businesses, there are unintended consequences."

Mr. Davis doubted the bill will make it through the House.

But Mr. Kennedy, the bill's sponsor, said there is "irrefutable and compelling evidence of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and we must respond."

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have similar laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. "This patchwork of protection from employment discrimination leaves many American workers without redress. A federal law is sorely needed," Mr. Kennedy said.

The measure would bar employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from hiring, firing or making compensation decisions based on sexual orientation. It also would prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee who takes action against the company under the bill.

Religious organizations, small businesses, the military and nonprofit, voluntary groups such as the Boy Scouts would be exempt from the bill's mandate.

The measure also would prohibit preferential treatment and the use of quotas.

Connie Mackey, vice president for government relations at the Family Research Council, said the bill known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a direct attack on the institution of marriage.

"Redefining marriage is what homosexual activists want. Government recognition of their activity with special protection in the law is one component of their end-game strategy targeting marriage," she said.

Mr. Kennedy's committee spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, said if a roll-call vote had been taken, the bill basically would have passed on a party-line vote. Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, was the only Republican to support it.

Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, has a similar bill in the House, with 190 co-sponsors.

Greg Crist, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, noted that the bill has only passed the committee level in the Senate, so House leaders will wait to see if it emerges from the Senate.

"Then we'll have to take the pulse of the conference, but my guess is that the pulse would be weak," Mr. Crist said.

Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, said the bill is simply not needed.

"What is so important about a person's sexual orientation?" Mr. Barr asked. "We're becoming obsessed. Why are we so fascinated as a nation with sexual orientation? To me it's irrelevant."

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