Gay Rights: Hopes Renewed

The political battle over gay rights is unfortunate. Where there should not have been a debate, there is one. The point is, when will the Senate finally accept its responsibility to provide justice to the clearly disadvantaged section of our largely sexist society? Gay rights advocates expect US House to pass federal ban on job discrimination

The Associated Press Monday, September 17, 2007

WASHINGTON: Gay rights advocates expect Congress will soon move closer to approving a federal ban on job discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender workers.

Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, a leading proponent, predicts the ban will win House approval in coming weeks.

But he and other gay rights supporters are less optimistic about the fight ahead in the narrowly divided 100-seat Senate, where they would need 60 votes — rather than a simple majority — to overcome anticipated Republican stall tactics.

“You don’t know if anything can pass the Senate,” said Frank, one of two openly gay members of Congress. “No predictions are possible about the Senate.” Gay rights supporters were heartened when Democrats won control of Congress last fall.

But conservative activists, too, are bracing for a Senate showdown.

“We know it’s going to be very close,” said Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues for Concerned Women for America.

It is legal for employers in 31 states to fire someone for being gay, the ban’s supporters said.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make it illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Churches and the military would be exempt.

Federal law bans job discrimination based on factors such as race, gender and religon. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws against sexual orientation discrimination.

Ban opponents say it could undermine the rights of people who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons.

“It would force Christian, Jewish, Muslim business owners to leave their faith at the workplace door,” Barber said.

Critics say gay rights advocates are exaggerating the extent of anti-gay discrimination in hopes of boosting their political agenda.

“It is affording extra protection to a group that has not been disadvantaged,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, a socially conservative group.

Senate Republicans are expected to oppose the measure, McClusky said. President George W. Bush has not said where he stands.

Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy plans to introduce Senate legislation this month proposing a discrimination ban.

“It’s always harder to pass bills in the Senate than in the House, but until we pass this bill, there will be a gaping hole in federal civil rights legislation,” said Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group, said the ban’s Senate supporters would have momentum if the House approves the bill.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-Republican group, said the ban is an easier sell than more controversial issues such as gay marriage.

“It’s a matter of basic fairness that the overwhelming majority of the American people and Republicans support,” said Log Cabin president Patrick Sammon. “We’re on firmer ground on this issue, so I think we’ve got a stronger case to make to Republican members of Congress.”

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On the Net:

Read the House bill, H.R. 2015, at http://thomas.loc.gov/