Republicans Selling Out, Again:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Gay rights advocates from both
parties are newly upbeat about the prospects for Senate passage of
legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against workers
on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The outlook for the Employment Non-Discrimination
Act reflects the nation's growing tolerance of homosexuality and the
GOP's political calculation as it looks for supporters beyond its core
base of older voters. The first test vote is Monday.
"I think society continues to evolve on the issue
of gay rights," (said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a co-sponsor of the
measure.) "As more and more gay individuals are open about their sexual
orientation, people come to realize that they are their neighbors, their
family members, their friends, their co-workers. That's made a big
Opinion polls underscore Collins' assessment.
A Pew Research survey in June found that more
Americans said homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged
by society by a margin of 60 percent to 31 percent. Opinions were more
evenly divided 10 years ago.
In a sign of the times, the anti-bias legislation
has traditional proponents such as the Human Rights Campaign, the
largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, plus the backing of a relatively
new group, the American Unity Fund. That organization has the financial
support of big-name Republican donors — hedge fund billionaires Paul
Singer, Cliff Asness, Dan Loeb and Seth Klarman — and former GOP
lawmakers Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Tom Reynolds of New York.
"Most conservatives believe people in the
workforce should be judged on their merits," said Jeff Cook-McCormac, a
senior adviser to the fund, which has focused on gay rights initiatives
in New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware. "They shouldn't be
judged on characteristics that are irrelevant in a productive employee." Current federal law prohibits discrimination on
the basis of sex, race and national origin. But it doesn't stop an
employer from firing or refusing to hire workers solely because they are
gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The bill would bar employers with 15 or more
workers from using a person's sexual orientation or gender identity as
the basis for making employment decisions, including hiring, firing,
compensation or promotion.
The Senate vote would come five months after
Supreme Court rulings affirming gay marriage and granting federal
benefits to legally married same-sex couples. It would be the first
major piece of gay rights legislation since Congress repealed the ban on
gays serving openly in the military in December 2010.
Collins said the military's relatively smooth
implementation of that law despite dire warnings have made Americans
more receptive to the nondiscrimination law. "People intuitively think that it is unfair to
discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation," said
Collins, who led the fight on gays in the military. "Just as it would be
unfair to refuse to hire or fire them based on religion or race or
gender. In fact, when I talk to constituents, they're surprised that
it's still legal under federal law."
The measure faces strong opposition from
established conservative groups such as the Family Research Council.
That group says the bill carves out special protections for sexual
orientation, would lead to expensive lawsuits against employers, and
could undercut the ability of employers to establish reasonable
standards for dress and grooming.
Heritage Action said Friday that the bill would
"severely undermine civil liberties ... and trample on religious
liberty" while potentially undermining job creation. The conservative
organization called for a vote against the bill and said it would record
the vote on its legislative scorecard. It is unclear whether Republican leaders in the House will even bring the bill up for a vote after the Senate acts.
On Monday, the Senate plans a test vote, and
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has made it clear he expects to get
the necessary 60 votes to move ahead on the legislation. All 55 members of the Senate's Democratic
majority are expected to vote "yes" on the test vote, "along with four
Republicans" — (Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and the
measure's co-sponsors, Illinois' Mark Kirk and Collins.)
Proponents are optimistic that (four other
Republicans also will support moving ahead:) Kelly Ayotte of New
Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada and Pat Toomey of
The Senate could complete the bill by week's end.