- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Senate Democrats are calling attention to the deaths of homosexuals on September 11 to promote the passage of a workplace anti-discrimination bill and hate-crimes legislation.
In speeches this month, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, have promoted the legislation by invoking the name of Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of doomed Flight 93 who helped to overpower the hijackers.
"One of the heroes who defied the hijackers on Flight 93 was Mark Bingham, a gay man," Mr. Daschle said on the Senate floor last week. "His courage may have helped save this very building. This year, we should have the courage to pass ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation."
But a spokesman for a leading Washington-based homosexual rights group said the terrorist attacks are not a reason to pass ENDA. He said the bill should become law on its own merits.
"ENDA has nothing to do with September 11 at all," said David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. "There were gay people who were killed, but many, many Americans performed acts of heroism. I don't think it's an argument for passing the bill."
Mr. Kennedy, in a speech Jan. 16 in Washington, said it is "long past time" for Congress to approve ENDA.
"We know of victims in the World Trade Center contributing, hardworking citizens, who were gay," Mr. Kennedy said. "So was one of the heroes of Flight 93. They died because they were Americans. And their memory should tell us that all Americans should be able to live their lives as full citizens of a free society."
The head of the Traditional Values Coalition in Washington called the Democrats' argument "a gimmick in a time of national tragedy."
"It doesn't heal anything," said the Rev. Louis Sheldon. He also said that he doubted the Democrats' strategy would give new momentum to the legislation.
"People who already support special rights for sexual orientation are already there [supporting the bill]," he said.
Mr. Daschle's comment, which came as he laid out Democrats' agenda for this year, raised the eyebrows of some Republicans who viewed the remark as the clearest sign yet that the South Dakota Democrat intends to run for president in 2004.
"He had his presidential hat on rather than his majority leader's hat," said a Senate Republican leadership aide. "The agenda of the majority leader should reflect your caucus and not your presidential ambitions."
Mr. Daschle, the highest-ranking elected Democrat, has said repeatedly that he has not decided whether to run for president. Mr. Smith said Mr. Daschle has been a supporter of ENDA since its introduction in 1994.
"We're not privy to Senator Daschle's plans," Mr. Smith said. "He has supported [the bill] for some time. It's common-sense legislation."
ENDA would prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. Opponents argue the measure would grant special rights to homosexuals and would introduce a pro-homosexual bias in hiring practices.
A bill was introduced in the House last July and, as of last month, had 186 co-sponsors: 165 Democrats, 20 Republicans and one independent. A Senate version introduced by Mr. Kennedy had 44 co-sponsors, only three of whom are Republicans.
Compensation for homosexual partners of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks is an unresolved issue before Kenneth Feinberg, the Justice Department's special master assigned to the cases, Mr. Smith said. Homosexuals can file claims under the federal victims' compensation fund but the issue of whether they qualify for relief "is an open question," he said.
As of last week, a total of 219 claims had been filed with Mr. Feinberg.
In October, New York Gov. George E. Pataki issued an executive order granting surviving partners of homosexual victims of the World Trade Center attacks the same benefits from the state's crime victims board as spouses. Those benefits are as much as $600 per week, up to a total of $30,000.

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