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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs