WASHINGTON - Democrats yesterday sent to the full House legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, despite protest because transgendered workers would not be protected under the bill.
Democratic leaders pushed forward the current bill after discovering that including transgendered workers in the legislation would cause it to fail in the full House. The Democrats promised to try to get additional legislation in the future.
"I believe that the step we are taking today will lay the foundation for passing these additional protections in the future," said Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
But the exclusion of gender identity in the bill has caused a divisive split among Democrats, with some saying they should take advantage of the party's numerical superiority in the House to pass the first-ever federal workplace protection for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Others say the Employment Non-Discrimination Act should include everyone in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.
"We won't support [the legislation] until all Americans are included," said Christopher Anders, the senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, said some Democrats will try to include a provision to protect transgendered workers before a final vote.
The committee passed the bill, 27 to 21, with all but four of the Republican members voting against the bill.
"When you strive to protect some people, you take away protections of other people," said Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon, Republican of California. "That is the difficulty, and I think some of us on this side are representing some of those people that feel like as good as your intentions are, you're taking away their rights in their religious beliefs and dealings on a day-to-day basis."
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make it illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting, or paying an employee based on sexual orientation. Churches and the military would be exempt.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have laws against sexual-orientation discrimination. Only nine states, specifically protect transgender people from discrimination: New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Mexico, California, Illinois, Maine, Hawaii, and Washington. The District of Columbia also has a similar law. By January, laws also will be in effect in Iowa, Vermont, Colorado, and Oregon.