Thursday, November 8, 2007

House approves law to protect gay workers

35 Republicans joined 200 Democrats yesterday to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007, which falls short of the 280 total votes needed to override a likely Presidential veto.

The Act grants broad protections against discrimination in the workplace for gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, making it illegal for employers "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation." It would put sexual orientation on the same footing as race, sex, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, and disability under the federal employment discrimination laws.

The version that passed the House did not contain measures to extend similar protections on the basis of gender identify, which would have included transsexual and transgender individuals. A broad exemption for religious organizations has also been written into the latest version of the Act.

Today's New York Times is reporting that Senator Edward Kennedy said he would quickly introduce a similar bill in the Senate, and that some Senate Republicans are saying that it could pass early next year if worded properly (whatever that means). Opponents of the bill claim that it will make it impossible to operate a business without having to worry about being accused of discriminating against someone based on their perceived sexual orientation.

While this blawg definitely has a pro-employer spin, it is hard to say in 2007 that it is acceptable to condone intentional discrimination of an innate characteristic such as sexual orientation. I don't intend to get into a debate about whether sexual orientation is a matter of genetics or personal choice. I frankly have no idea, and really don't care one way or the other. The point is that sexual orientation is the one characteristic against which discrimination is still generally allowed and accepted. By the same token, I understand the impracticalities of extending the same protections to gender identity. A company should not be forced to accept a man dressed in drag if that is not the image its wants to project, or if it think such an image will harm its bottom line by driving away business or customers.

The full text of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed by the House is available here.