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Lane: Act to end LGBT discrimination

BY JOE LANE | NOVEMBER 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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The U.S. Senate on Nov. 7 approved the Employment Nondiscrimination Act  by a bipartisan vote of 64-32. The bill would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s an idea, according to the Huffington Post, that 69 percent of Americans believe already is law, though it’s unclear if the House of Representatives will even bring it to a vote.

With proper stipulations in place that prevent undue restrictions on religious freedom, I am disappointed that the Senate did not pass this bill unanimously and that the House may choose not to consider it at all. With Illinois last week becoming the 15th state to legalize gay marriage, a bill as straightforward as the anti-bias act should be able to receive unanimous bipartisan support with ease.

This past year has been one of the most important in the history of the American gay rights movement. Between May 2 and Nov. 5, seven states passed legislation recognizing gay marriage. On June 26, the US Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote.

The mainstream culture has also become more accommodating of gay rights. On April 29, NBA player Jason Collins became the first active athlete in one of America’s four big sports leagues to come out.

It is important that American government not reverse this progress by deciding not to sign the anti-bias act into law.

American workers should be judged solely on their merit as employees and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Neither factor should ever be regarded as legitimate grounds for termination.

The website for the Washington, D.C.–based Human Rights Campaign provides the important story of an Iowa woman — identified only as Kathleen — who faced discrimination in the workplace.

Kathleen held a research position at a university in Iowa for three years. After she revealed her plans to transition from male to female to her coworkers and supervisor, she was told that, because of her “condition,” she could no longer perform her job effectively.

When Kathleen approached the university’s affirmative-action office, officials there ordered she not be terminated as long as she could agree to find work in another department. Despite interviews with other departments, Kathleen was not hired and ultimately quit and left Iowa in 2002.

Though the bill does not affect the hiring and workplace practices of religious organizations, some continue to believe the nondiscrimination bill would infringe upon employers’ freedom of expression. However, outside of such religious organizations, freedom of expression in regards to hiring practices is irrelevant — the most qualified candidate for a job is a matter of fact, not of individual expression.

Unfortunately, opposition remains in the Republican House.

According to a Politico report, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Boehner is loath to bring the bill to a vote because he believe it “will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs.” I disagree with the speaker on this point; any litigation that may arise as a result of this legislation would be anything but frivolous, it would be a necessary defense of human rights.

Not passing the anti-bias act would be one of the biggest human-rights missteps that Congress has ever made. The absence of such a law allows employers to select employees (and keep them) not on merit but on unrelated aspects of their lifestyles.

I believe Congress should allow President Obama to sign the Employment Nondiscrimination Act into law not only to protect LGBT Americans but also to show the public that our elected representatives have their priorities straight.

Let’s pass the act and end this pitiful treatment of some of this country’s hardest workers.


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