Change to Gay and Lesbian Rights in the Workplace

Congress is set to change the position of the United States Federal government in relation to discrimination by employers against workers who are gay or lesbian. At present, in 29 states there is no prohibition against firing an employee because they are gay or lesbian. However, one of the current bills before the national congress is set to change that. Also, if Congress does not pass the bill, it is likely that the Gay Rights lobby will press the President to act by issuing an executive order that would cover all federal government employees in the country as well as employers with federal contracts.

Some of the counter arguments for the bill are based around an accusation that it is ‘anti-family’ and that it would create a flood of baseless lawsuits against employers. The bill is expected to attract support from the 55 Democratic majority members in the Senate and several Republicans. If it passes into law, it will become known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Notably, Senior Republicans in the House have been silent on any potential opposition which the bill may face. It appears that conservative political leaders are realising that it is necessary for them to maintain their political base by appealing to a broader political spectrum than the traditional electorate which is now ageing. There appears to be much greater acceptance in American culture of gay and lesbian rights which is leading to a reassessment by Republican political leaders.

The present flurry of reforms in American law related to gay and lesbian rights appears to be a contemporary equivalent of the Civil Rights movement which saw American society liberalise the rights available to racial minorities. Even before that, rights were expanded along gender lines to specifically prevent gender and racially based discrimination in the work place. The proposed legislation would prevent employers that have more than 15 workers from using a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for making employment decisions, including hiring, firing, compensation or promotion. It would exempt religious institutions and the military. The Senate planned to vote Thursday on an amendment to expand the number of groups that are covered under the religious exemption. Twenty-two states and the Washington capital district have approved laws banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 17 of those also prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender identity.

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