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

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs