Gay Rights Bill Clears First Hurdle In Senate
By Sean Powers, with additional reporting from The Associated Press
The U.S. Senate is moving ahead with legislation to bar employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
While supporters say the plan won’t make a huge difference in Illinois, it could have a far-reaching impact nationally
Two years ago, Illinois Attorney Joanie Rae Wimmer represented a transgendered person who worked as a taxi driver.
“Her employer treated her differently; called her a faggot, an abomination, refused to repair her taxi even though they repaired the taxis of the other drivers,” Wimmer explained.
Wimmer said her client was illegally fired, and ultimately sued the taxi company, which was ordered to pay more than $100,000 for discriminating against her. Wimmer said this was the first case of its kind protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.
Now, Wimmer said she hopes Congress passes a similar measure called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which the Senate is expected to vote on this week.
“It’s a necessary bill because there’s many states that don’t have those kinds of protections,” she said.
On Monday, the Senate voted 61-30 to advance the legislation for further discussion. Both Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) back the plan. Kirk took to the Senate floor for the first time since suffering a stroke to talk about his support for the legislation.
“This is not a major change to law. I would say it’s already the law in 21 states,” Kirk said. “I think it’s particularly appropriate for an Illinois Republican to speak on behalf of this measure in the true tradition of Everett McKinley Dirksen and Abraham Lincoln, men who gave us the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.”
All Democrats in the Senate and at least five Republicans are expected to vote for the bill, but its chances in the Republican-controlled House are uncertain.
Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) said the bill in unnecessary. Republican House Speaker John Boehner remains opposed to it, arguing that it will lead to frivolous lawsuits and undercut job creation.