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U.S. Senate passes bill that would bar employment discrimination against GLBT individuals

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on a vote of 64-32. The bill would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees and applicants because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While the Maine Human Rights Act already prohibits discrimination against GLBT individuals, such discrimination is legal under federal law and in 29 states. Both of Maine’s senators voted in favor of ENDA.

“All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream. Over the years, we have rightly taken a stand against workplace discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, religion, age, and disability. It is past time we ensure that all employees are judged on their talents, abilities, their hard work, and capabilities by closing an important gap in federal law as it relates to sexual orientation,” said U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). “I am pleased to be a long-time supporter and original cosponsor of ENDA. This bill deserves support as a matter of fairness and as a matter of civil rights. It is a commonsense solution, consistent with existing federal civil rights laws, and it will not place an undue burden on American employers. Moreover, it is simply the right thing to do.”

“The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is the next step in this country’s long movement toward ensuring basic civil rights protections for all of its citizens,” said U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME). “For far too long, LGBT individuals across the country have experienced harassment or lost their jobs simply because of who they are. ENDA will bring an end to these discriminatory practices by extending basic employment protections to millions of American employees, ensuring that individuals will be judged on the basis of their talent, skills, and experience, rather than sexual orientation or gender identity. Today’s vote marks a step forward for human rights and a step forward for America.”

Despite its receipt of bipartisan support in the Senate, the Republicans in the House of Representatives remain largely opposed to ENDA. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) believes ENDA would increase “frivolous litigation” and “cost American jobs.” Maine has outlawed discrimination against GLBT individuals since 2005 and there is no evidence that its prohibition on GLBT discrimination has resulted in an increase in frivolous litigation or job losses.

The late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) first introduced ENDA in the Senate in 1996 but it failed to pass by one vote. Discrimination against GLBT individuals has gradually become less and less acceptable since that time. Senator Kennedy often said that civil rights is America’s great “unfinished business” and successful passage of ENDA would go along way toward finishing that business.