News / USA

    US Senate Approves Gay Workplace Protections

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leads a news conference as Democrats gathered after the Senate debate to move toward a historic vote on legislation to outlaw workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, on Capitol Hill in Wa
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leads a news conference as Democrats gathered after the Senate debate to move toward a historic vote on legislation to outlaw workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, on Capitol Hill in Wa
    Michael Bowman
    The U.S. Senate has approved workplace protections for gay and transgender Americans by a vote of 64 to 32. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] has languished in Congress for nearly two decades, and faces an uncertain fate in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

    ENDA’s passage in the Senate, with bipartisan support, caps a watershed week for gay rights in America. Days ago, Illinois lawmakers voted to make their state the 15th in the nation where gay couples can marry. One-third of Americans now live in states recognizing same-sex unions.

    Originally championed by former Senator Edward Kennedy in the 1990s, ENDA would make it illegal for employers to decline to hire or to fire a worker on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    Democratic Senator Al Franken said those protections are just and needed. “You can be a hard-worker, you can show up on time and get exemplary performance reviews. But if your boss discovers that you are gay or transgender or suspects it, he can fire you for being who you are, and there is nothing you can do about it. That is a terrible injustice.”

    ENDA has exemptions for religious organizations. For instance, a faith-based charity belonging to a denomination that disapproves of homosexuality would retain the ability to reject gay job applicants.  

    That exception is not sufficient for Republican senators like Dan Coats, though, who voted against ENDA. Coats says all Americans who object to homosexuality should be able to run their businesses as their conscience dictates.

    “Freedom of religion has been a core American principle. Unfortunately, this principle of religious freedom is under attack across our country today. Make no mistake, we are seeing the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech constrained and restricted,” said Coats.

    Current federal law protects workers on the basis of race, religion, national origin, age and disability. The Senate’s only openly-gay member, Tammy Baldwin, says sexual orientation should be added to the list.

    “It is about freedom, the freedom to realize our Founding Fathers’ belief that all Americans are created equal under the law," she said. "And it is about opportunity, about whether every American gets to dream the same dreams and chase the same ambitions and have the same shot at success.”

    The White House issued a statement applauding the Senate vote and urging swift ENDA approval in the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner opposes the bill, however, saying it would encourage frivolous lawsuits and harm job creation.

    It is unlikely ENDA will get a House vote without Boehner’s support. Gay rights groups say they will work to build bipartisan House backing for the bill.

    Meanwhile, the European Union's top court has ruled that refugees facing jail for same-sex activity can constitute grounds for asylum.

    The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that laws allowing the imprisonment of homosexuals can be considered an act of persecution if routinely enforced. It said that sexual orientation is "a characteristic fundamental to a person's identity," and they should not be forced to conceal it.

    The case centered on a request by three men from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal who sought asylum in the Netherlands on the grounds of sexual persecution.

    The court said it will be up to individual nations to assess asylum applications and decide whether the situation in the applicant's home country amounts to persecution.

    You May Like

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.