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Employment bill signals changes in attitudes for, against gay rights

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6 2013 6:25 p.m. MST

Derek Kitchen and his partner Moudi Sbiety pose in Salt Lake City. The Senate's anticipated passage of legislation that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification is another indicator that America's attitudes toward gay rights are shifting, observers say.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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The Senate's anticipated passage of a law that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification is another indicator that America's attitude toward gay rights are shifting, observers say.

After the Employment Non-Discrimination Act cleared a procedural hurdle Monday, several articles noted that the vote — a strong indication the bill will pass the Senate later this week — was historic and significant on several fronts.

The anticipated passage would be the first time the Senate has approved "major civil-rights legislation protecting gay and transgendered Americans," attorney and gay rights advocate Richard Socarides wrote in The New Yorker.

Socarides was a White House aide when the same bill, sponsored by late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, fell one vote short of passing the Senate 17 years ago in 1996.

"At the time, everyone was surprised that it got as much support as it did, a result credited to Kennedy’s legislative maneuvering," he wrote.

What's happened since 1996? Some 21 states have passed similar non-discrimination employment laws. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, and Hawaii and Illinois lawmakers are expected to add to that total this month. And, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for gay marriage in California and struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act — which, coincidentally, passed the Senate the same day that body narrowly rejected the ENDA, Socarides noted.

An Associated Press story Tuesday remarked on the gains the gay rights movement has made in the past decade, but also noted "the gay-rights debate remains complex and challenging for many Americans."

Indeed, more than 30 states have a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Also, the ENDA has little chance of passing the GOP-controlled House, Politico reports, despite an exemption covering religious organizations and religiously-affiliated schools.

The exemption doesn't cover religious individuals or business owners, a concern raised by the Family Research Council.

The FRC statement also signals a shift in the arguments against the bill: from religious to economic concerns, at least publicly.

"More politicians are fighting ENDA as a bad economic move, not as a break with the Bible," wrote Cathy Lynn Grossman for Religion News Service.

The story quotes R. Marie Griffith, director of the Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, saying “the religious case on this one issue is really dissolving.

“Religion runs deep in our veins in American history. But religious views on this issue have shifted, and you see growing tolerance for gay people. Younger conservative Christians have no problem (with their LGBT peers).”

U.S. News and World Report indicated money may also have something to do with the Senate support.

"The National Religious Broadcasters, the Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council reportedly spent a little more than $43,000 to stop ENDA in the third quarter," the story stated. "Meanwhile, one LGBT rights group on its own, the Human Rights Campaign, spent more than 10 times as much during the same third-quarter period — $450,000 — to ensure its passage."

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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