Workplace protection for LGBT employees overdue

Ben Pacho, Staff Writer

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In rare form earlier this month, the U.S. Senate offset its beleaguered reputation by passing historic civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people — ensuring workplace protections against an employers’ ability to fire or not promote on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Contrary to popular belief, such protections for LGBT citizens do not exist in the most states, where employers have the legal right to fire an employee solely on the suspicion of being gay.

“Unfortunately, in 29 states you can still be fired for who you are and who you love. That is just plain wrong,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a cosponsor of the bill. “The Senate has an opportunity to right this wrong and stand for fairness and equality for all Americans.”

Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — known as ENDA — came with unanimous support from Democrats and ten Republicans in the Senate, demonstrating a joint evolution on gay rights that has been slow to keep pace with the American public.

However, sweeping concessions were made for more conservative Republicans not entirely satisfied with the bill’s exemptions for religious institutions.

“The exemption extends way beyond houses of worship — encompassing personnel at hospitals and universities who perform no real religious function — and is out of keeping with the approach of earlier civil rights statutes and rulings,” according to The New York Times.

Before the bill can be become law, it faces a significant hurdle in the House, as its leadership remains more polarized over social issues than those in the Senate.

Even with the bill’s wide-ranging religious exemptions, the Republican-led House is unlikely to so much as allow ENDA to come up for a vote, as House Speaker John Boehner has voiced specious opposition.

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner’s spokesman said in a press release.

But that’s not the case in 21 states where LGBT workplace laws already exist on the books.

“Those concerns are not borne out in states that have had such protections for years,” The New York Times reports. “And that kind of excuse, of course, was used decades ago to try to block legislation to outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, national origin and disabilities.”

It’s time to give LGBT citizens the same protections everyone else received half a century ago.

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