On Thursday, Nov. 7, the Senate set in motion a potential showdown with the House in 2014 over legislation (S.B. 815), sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR, pictured), that would prohibit employers of 15 or more employees from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure, which exempts certain religious organizations, passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 64 to 32 (with 4 members absent), as 52 Democrats joined with 10 Republicans and two Independents in approving the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013.
Currently, federal laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Equal Pay Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age, pregnancy, disability or genetic information. However, while 21 states and the District of Columbia provide some form of protection against discrimination based on one’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation, no federal statute has been enacted into law to date.
The Senate legislation now moves to the House for further consideration. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated he has no plans to consider the legislation during the 113th Congress. A similar bill (H.R. 1755) is pending before the House with 193 cosponsors.