In a brief glimpse of functionality in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, the Senate passed a bill banning workplace discrimination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The 64 senators voting in favor of the bill included 10 Republicans.
This is a welcome step forward and an extension of basic fairness to a badly marginalized group. Everyone deserves the opportunity to contribute to society through their work, and their sexual orientation or gender identity shouldn’t get in the way of that.
The bill exempts religious institutions such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, and other closely affiliated organizations such as schools.
A Washington Post analysis indicates that measures to end workplace discrimination have widespread popular support, even in the most conservative states — 63 percent in Mississippi, for instance.
Despite its broad support, the bill will not likely become law this year. House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the bill, saying that it will invite frivolous lawsuits and harm the economy.
Even if those concerns were founded, they seem minor compared to the obvious civil rights and equity issues at stake. They also mirror historical objections to current protections based on sex, race and national origin.
Senators remarked that many of their constituents mistakenly believe that there are already nondiscrimination laws on the books everywhere. Federal law protects people based on their race, national origin and sex, but not sexual orientation and gender identity.
Twenty-one states (Washington State included) and some municipalities protect LGBT people from unfair discrimination. Additionally, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies have similar policies.
It’s time for the federal government to catch up to public opinion on workplace discrimination — if not this year, then as soon as the political will can be found.