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U.S. Senate Passes Historic Gay Rights Bill

On Thursday, November 7, 2013, the United States Senate passed a bill that aims to prevent discrimination against gay and transgender employees in the workplace. The bill, which passed 64-32, now goes to the House of Representatives. Its future there, at this point, is unclear.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or “ENDA,” would outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is already illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age or disability. Twenty-one states currently have laws protecting LGBT individuals in the workplace; twenty-nine (including Georgia) do not.

The proposal marked the first major piece of legislation involving gay rights since Congress repealed the policy barring gays from openly serving in the military. President Obama celebrated ENDA’s passage, saying it will stop Americans from being denied a job or fired just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Despite the excitement surrounding the Senate bill, however, it is not clear that the President will have an opportunity to sign it into law any time soon.

House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have expressed concerns that the proposal would lead to “frivolous lawsuits” and kill jobs. Conservative groups have also painted the proposal as anti-family. Currently, the bill is not scheduled for a vote in the House.

However, Senate Majority Leady Harry Reid predicted that House Republicans would support the bill if it came up for a vote. “I think the House is going to have to capitulate,” Reid said, “if they have any hope of having a president that can be a viable candidate or they think they can elect some Republicans and they want to hang onto the House.”

Following the vote, President Obama pressed the House to take up the measure. “One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do,” said President Obama. “Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it.”

If passed, the law would be groundbreaking, creating a new “protected class” of American workers. Although many employers already have internal policies that prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers, in the majority of states (including Georgia) the law provides LGBT workers with no remedy in the event those policies are breached. Continue to monitor our website and newsletter for EDNA updates.

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