Friday November 27th, 2015 9:18PM

Bipartisan support boosts gay rights legislation

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor
WASHINGTON - Gay rights advocates - Republicans and Democrats - are newly upbeat about the prospects for Senate passage of a bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The outlook for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - the first test vote is Monday - 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.

"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 difference."

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 to 31 percent, or nearly 2-to-1. 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 American Unity Fund, a group that 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 the senator, 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, which argues that it 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 Pennsylvania.

The Senate could complete the bill by week's end.

The evolution and changing views on gay rights are evident in the senators now expressing support.

In September 1996, the Senate narrowly rejected a similar measure on a 50-49 vote. That bill did not include protections for transgender people. Voting against it were Hatch and then-Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski, father of Lisa Murkowski. Subsequent efforts over the next 17 years to secure Senate passage of the bill faltered.

This past July, Hatch, Kirk and Lisa Murkowski backed the bill when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, endorsed the measure 15-7.

"I think that this issue is not so much a Democrat-Republican issue, although more Democrats are for it of course, as it is an age issue," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "You'll find a lot of young people who are very conservative are much more pro-gay rights. There are some who would not support marriage but would support anti-discrimination. For those two reasons, I think we have a good chance of it passing."

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have already approved laws banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 17 of those also prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender identity.

About 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies have already adopted nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign. About 57 percent of those companies include gender identity.
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
Standoff at Planned Parenthood ends with suspect's arrest; 1 killed, at least 11 other injured
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A gunman who opened fire inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic was arrested Friday after killing a police officer, wounding multiple people and engaging in...
9:05PM ( 13 minutes ago )
Black Friday: The Super Bowl of shopping starts in stores, but it looks very different
NEW YORK (AP) — The annual ritual of Black Friday, as we know it, is over.Gone are the throngs of frenzied shoppers camping out for days ahead of the big sales bonanza on the day after Thanksgiving. A...
4:47PM ( 4 hours ago )
Deadline to sponsor Wreaths Across America at Alta Vista is Monday
Each holiday season, veteran grave sites at Alta Vista cemetery in Gainesville are adorned with wreaths as part of Wreaths Across America.
3:42PM ( 5 hours ago )
PHOTO GALLERY: Holiday shoppers hit Gainesville stores early
Black Friday may still have status as the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, but Thanksgiving Thursday is gaining ground as more stores opt to open early.
By AccessWDUN staff
10:01AM ( 11 hours ago )
White House undergoes Thanksgiving Day lockdown after man draped in American flag jumps fence
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man draped in an American flag climbed over the fence at the White House on Thursday, prompting a lockdown as the first family celebrated Thanksgiving.The man was immediately appre...
10:11PM ( 23 hours ago )