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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid