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Gay activists
hopeful that vote on job bias ban
is imminent

Gay activists
hopeful that vote on job bias ban
is imminent


Gay rights advocates expect Congress will soon move closer to approving a federal ban on job discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender workers.

Gay rights advocates expect Congress will soon move closer to approving a federal ban on job discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender workers.

Rep. Barney Frank, a leading proponent, predicts the ban will win House approval in coming weeks.

But he and other gay rights supporters are less optimistic about the fight ahead in the narrowly divided Senate, where they would need 60 votes--rather than a simple majority--to overcome anticipated GOP stall tactics, such as a filibuster.

''You don't know if anything can pass the Senate,'' said Frank, one of two openly gay members of Congress. ''No predictions are possible about the Senate.''

Conservative activists too are bracing for a Senate showdown.

''We know it's going to be very close,'' said Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues for Concerned Women for America.

It is legal for employers in 31 states to fire someone for being gay, the ban's supporters said.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make it illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting, or paying an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Churches and the military would be exempt.

Federal law bans job discrimination based on factors such as race, gender, and religion. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have laws against sexual orientation discrimination.

Ban opponents say the proposed law could undermine the rights of people who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons.

''It would force Christian, Jewish, Muslim business owners to leave their faith at the workplace door,'' Barber said.

Critics say gay rights advocates are exaggerating the extent of antigay discrimination in hopes of boosting their political agenda.

''It is affording extra protection to a group that has not been disadvantaged,'' said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, a socially conservative group.

GOP Senate leaders are expected to oppose the measure, McClusky said. President Bush has not said where he stands.

Sen. Edward Kennedy plans to introduce Senate legislation this month proposing a discrimination ban.

''It's always harder to pass bills in the Senate than in the House, but until we pass this bill, there will be a gaping hole in federal civil rights legislation,'' said Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group, said the ban's Senate supporters would have momentum if the House approves the bill.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group, said the ban is an easier sell than more controversial measures such as legalizing same-sex marriage.

''It's a matter of basic fairness that the overwhelming majority of the American people and Republicans support,'' said Log Cabin president Patrick Sammon. ''We're on firmer ground on this issue, so I think we've got a stronger case to make to Republican members of Congress.''

Gay rights supporters were heartened when Democrats won control of Congress last fall.

A bipartisan bill was introduced in April by House members Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat; Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican; Deborah Pryce, an Ohio Republican; and Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat who is gay. There are 167 cosponsors, including a handful of Republicans.

A ban was first proposed in the House in 1994. Republicans had not permitted votes on similar measures while they controlled the House in past years. In the Senate, a bill failed by one vote in 1996.

Sammon said even if ban backers fall short of the 60 votes needed to break procedural roadblocks expected from Senate opponents, it would mark progress.

''Let's have a vote, let's have a count and see where we're at,'' Sammon said. ''If we end up getting 54 or 53 or even 48, we know where we stand and we can figure out how to get more votes in the future.''

The House earlier this year voted to expand hate-crime categories to include violent attacks against gays and people targeted because of gender. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate. The White House has threatened a veto. (Andrew Miga, AP)

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