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Gay rights activists in Delaware are hoping the third time is the charm for a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Though spending issues are expected to dominate legislative discussions after the general assembly convenes Tuesday, the sexual orientation bill could be one of the most controversial topics considered by lawmakers this year. The bill, similar to measures that failed to win passage in two previous legislative sessions, cleared the state house by one vote last year. It faces an uncertain future in the senate, even though Gov. Ruth Ann Minner took the unusual step of holding a news conference in Legislative Hall last year to express support for the measure. "I think most of our senators feel that no one should be discriminated against when it comes to hiring practices or employment," Minner said last month. The proposed law would add sexual orientation, "whether real or perceived," to age, race, and other factors that cannot be used to discriminate against people in employment, housing, public accommodations, insurance, or public-works contracting. The bill would exempt religious groups in most circumstances and would not require employers to offer health care or other benefits to partners of gay or lesbian employees. Supporters of the measure think they have the 11 votes necessary to win passage in the 21-seat senate, but the bill first must get out of committee. In 2002 a similar measure died after Sen. Robert Venables (D-Laurel), a staunch opponent, kept it locked up in his small-business committee.