News

Senate passes historic gay rights bill

Senate passes historic gay rights bill

HISTORIC VOTE: There were smiles all around as Democrats gathered after the Senate cut off debate to move toward a historic vote on legislation outlawing workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, demonstrating the nation's quickly evolving attitude toward gay rights nearly two decades after Congress rejected same-sex marriage, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. From left are, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. The enthusiasm of the bill's supporters was tempered by the reality that the Republican-led House, where conservatives have a firm grip on the agenda, is unlikely to even vote on it. Photo: Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led Senate, reflecting a major shift in the past decade in public opinion, passed a bipartisan bill on Thursday to outlaw discrimination against gay workers. But the measure faces an uphill struggle in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

The bill cleared the Senate 64-32, with 10 Republicans joining 52 Democrats and two independents in voting “yes.”

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 has become the latest battleground in an ideological fight within the Republican Party. An increasing number of Republicans support gay rights, but conservative groups threaten to challenge many of those who support the White House-backed bill.

Critics complain that the legislation represents an unwarranted federal intrusion in the workplace that would force employers to violate religious beliefs in deciding whom to hire.

Backers say legislation would protect people to be able to love whom they choose without the fear of losing their job.

Unlike a decade ago, when gay rights was a “wedge-issue” used to rally conservative voters, most Americans, including most Republicans, now support gay rights, polls show.

Senate passage of the non-discrimination bill came 19 years after such legislation was first introduced in Congress.

“This is a historic victory and shows that the country is moving forward,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Said Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, “All Americans have the right to pursue the American dream.”

But House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, has declared his opposition, expressing fear the measure would trigger lawsuits that would hurt businesses and cost jobs.

Backers of the legislation reject concerns about lawsuits, noting that it has not been a problem for states that have adopted similar laws in recent years.

The Senate bill would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Existing federal law already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.

As of April, 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies already had non-discrimination policies for sexual orientation, and 57 percent had such policies for gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

‘GENERATIONAL THING’

At this point, there are no plans to bring the Senate bill up for a House vote, but Republican leaders will face pressure to do so, including from members of their own party.

A number of Republican strategists are convinced that their party must embrace gay rights for its own political good.

“It’s largely a generational thing,” said one party strategist. “Younger Republicans see no reason to discriminate against gays. They have friends who are gay.”

Regardless, this strategist, asking not to be identified by name, said he expects Boehner to stand firm against the bill, reflecting the sentiment of older fellow House conservatives.

“Eventually the bill will pass the House. But not this year,” the strategist said.

The Human Rights Campaign is part of a coalition seeking passage. Others include Project Right Side, a gay rights group founded by Ken Mehlman, a former chairman of the Republican Party, and TargetPoint Consulting, a Republican polling firm.

Alex Lundry, TargetPoint’s chief data scientist, said over the past 10 years support for gay rights has risen in every demographic group.

“Americans are ready for this to happen,” Lundry said.

Fred Sainz, an HRC vice president, said his group helped win over eight senators, Democrats and Republicans, with campaigns in seven states, and now will focus on House members.

“It’s our job to make it happen,” Sainz said.

HRC President Chad Griffin, on a visit to the Capitol for the Senate vote, tweeted: “Note to Speaker Boehner: Turn on C-Span 2 (the TV station that covers the Senate). This is what democracy looks like.”

It is unclear how the battle will unfold in the 435-member House. A total of 193 House members, including five Republicans, have signed onto the legislation. Twenty-five more are needed to reach 218, the simple majority required for passage.

Backers may try to force a vote by signing a petition or by offering the bill as an amendment to must-pass legislation, such as a defense spending bill.

Recent News

9 hours ago in Entertainment

Jim Beam fills 14 millionth bottle of bourbon

jimbeam807686855761

Jim Beam has filled and sealed its 14 millionth barrel of bourbon since the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, achieving a first in the bourbon industry.

9 hours ago in Music

Stone Temple Pilots shoot down Scott Stapp rumors

scottstapp

Stone Temple Pilots have denied reports suggesting the former Creed rocker is set to become their new lead vocalist.

9 hours ago in Entertainment, Viral Videos

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ as told by emojis

11-overlay-2

If the blockbuster movie was told entirely by characters on your cell phone.

9 hours ago in Entertainment, Weird

‘Rock’ your clock

dwaynetherockjohnson690454149554

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has an app to help you organize their day.

9 hours ago in Entertainment, Sports

Hulk Hogan seeks second slam of Gawker over racist comments leak

Terry Bollea, known as professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, listens while testifying in his case against the news website Gawker at the Pinellas County Courthouse, in St. Petersburg, Fla., Monday, March 7, 2016. Hogan is suing Gawker for $100 million for publishing a video of him having sex with his best friend's wife. (Boyzell Hosey/Tampa Bay Times via AP, Pool)

Hulk Hogan accused Gawker of leaking his racist remarks in a lawsuit filed in Florida on Monday involving a secretly-recorded sex tape of the wrestling celebrity, who recently won $140 million in damages against the media website in a related case.