A bill to ban job discrimination against gays and lesbians, which almost passed the Senate last year, faces a rough time in Congress this year.
But it is expected to receive a sympathetic hearing Thursday.
James Jeffords of Vermont, a moderate Republican who will chair the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee hearing on the bill, is co-sponsoring it with the committee’s leading Democrat, the liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
The bill - called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - would extend employment-related federal civil rights law to gays. Now, anti-bias provisions cover race, gender, national origin, religion, age and disability.
“This legislation expresses one of America’s most fundamental values,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., in an interview. “If you work hard and play by rules, you ought not be discriminated against because of characteristics that have nothing to do with the job.”
But opponents have strongly attacked the measure and Thursday’s hearing. Andrea Sheldon, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative group that draws support from evangelical churches. “This is not a legitimate hearing. We’re not attending (it). This is not a serious issue.”
Among those expected to testify is David Horowitz of Phoenix, who will tell lawmakers how he won a job offer in the Mesa, Ariz., city attorney’s office in 1991 only to lose it when he revealed he was gay.
Ten states - California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin - have laws prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. Several major cities including San Francisco and New York have similar measures.