U.S. senators from Illinois divided over gay rights

BY Advocate.com Editors

March 08 2003 1:00 AM ET

Illinois's U.S. senators voiced differing opinions at a constituent breakfast Thursday regarding their support for legislation pending before Congress that would place a federal ban on most employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Responding to a question from Chicagoan Philip Pessin, a member of a group advocating passage of the measure, Democrat Dick Durbin assured Pessin of his support, but Republican Peter Fitzgerald balked at backing the bill. "Right now, it's unconstitutional to discriminate in this country, for the government to discriminate, against people based on race, color, or, arguably, creed," Fitzgerald said. "I don't favor adding statutes that would add sexual behavior to that list. I do believe you can't legislate everything in this country."

Pessin told a reporter afterward that Fitzgerald's position would not sit well with the 27,000 Illinois members of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. Pessin said Fitzgerald did not answer his question. Pessin said the bill would not legislate sexual behavior but would ban employment discrimination based on the perception that a person is homosexual, whether true or not. "It affects everyone," he said.

Fitzgerald, when asked later whether he supports a ban on job discrimination based on a person's perceived sexual orientation, said he does not favor such laws: "I think it's appropriate for government to focus on protecting people from discrimination based on race, color, or creed, and I do not support going beyond that."

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