LGBT Protections Advance in Senate

Earlier attempts at the ENDA law stripped out protections for LGBT people. Photo from a protest in 2010

Earlier attempts at the ENDA law stripped out protections for LGBT people. (Photo from a protest in 2010. Photo by Matt Baume/Flickr Creative Commons)

Senate leaders hope to capitalize on growing support for gay rights – especially after the landmark DOMA decision.

And if they can’t win by passing new laws, they hope to win politically.

Senator Lisa Murkowski joined two Republicans and every Democrat on the Labor Committee in voting to move the Employee Non-Discrimination Act to the full Senate.

“There should be a fundamental agreement that we have that discrimination should just not be allowed,” Murkowski said. “We should just not operate in a discriminatory manner, in a workplace, in our schools.”

ENDA, as the bill is known in Washington-lingo, would make it illegal for any employer to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or identity.

Identity is a key component. Senator Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the committee, said he will introduce amendments when the full Senate debates the bill, including one to clarify what “transitioning” means for people under going sex changes.

“If we can’t be specific about what’ we’re talking about, it’s hard to expect the employers to be,” Alexander said. He opted not to bring the amendments up for committee votes.

The transgender issue has been a roadblock in the past. In 2007, the House passed a version of ENDA only after it stripped out protections for transgender people. That bill won the support of nearly three dozen Republicans. But today’s House is far more conservative.

Iowa’s Tom Harkin chairs the Labor Committee. Long a voice for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, the retiring senator said current law allows both the government and private sector to discriminate against people … despite growing support for gay rights.

“Qualified workers should not be turned away or have to fear losing their livelihood for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications, skills, or performance. So let’s not mince words, at least I won’t. Such practices are un-American, they should have no place in any American workplace,” he said in his opening remarks.

Congress has debated the issue for years, but it’s never passed the Senate.

This go around is likely to be different. More than 50 Democratic senators have signed on as cosponsors, including Mark Begich. He said he’s long supported legal protection for LGBT people.

With Murkowski, the two other committee Republicans and Maine’s Susan Collins, supporters are close to the 60 vote threshold.

But House leaders have not said they’ll bring anything to the floor.

Begich said it’s worth moving through the Senate, even if the House won’t take it up.

“We vote on what we think is important and issues we can pass. But if we sit around and wait for them to pass stuff, I’ll be old and gray,” he said with a laugh.

Congress has a full agenda for the next few weeks before it takes off for the August recess. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised swift action – at least in his chamber.

Recent headlines

  • dollar bill money macro

    Per diems driving special session costs

    Lawmakers who represent areas outside Juneau receive $295 for each day of the special session. Juneau lawmakers receive $221.25 per day.
  • Caroline Hoover proudly pins an Alaska Territorial Guard medal on the front of her father's parka during an official discharge ceremony held Oct. 17 in Kipnuk, Alaska. David Martin is one of three surviving members of the Alaska Territorial Guard's Kipnuk unit. A total of 59 residents of Kipnuk, who volunteered to defend Alaska in the event of a Japanese invasion during World War II, were recognized during the ceremony. Kipnuk residents who served with the Alaska Territorial Guard from 1942-1947 were members of a U.S. Army component organized in response to attacks by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. (Photo by Jerry Walton, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs cultural resource manager and native liaison/public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

    16 Alaska Territorial Guard vets to be honored in Anchorage

    Sixteen veterans of the Alaska Territorial Guard will be honored at a discharge ceremony today. Four of them are from Western Alaska.
  • Don Andrew Roguska looks out from an upstairs window of an historic Juneau house he bought in 2016 to restore. Zoning regulations have prevented him from rebuilding in the same style. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

    Juneau mulls relaxing zoning rules for historic houses

    The historic houses in Juneau and Douglas were predominately built by miners and fishermen long before today's zoning was put into place. That's prevented homeowners from restoring or rebuilding homes in these neighborhoods without running into conflict with the city's zoning laws -- a temporary fix may be on the way.
  • Young joins Afghanistan war skeptics in Congress

    Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young wants to know why Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan. He has co-sponsored a bill that would end funding for the war in a year, unless the president and Congress affirm the need for it.