Senate Dem calls for broad LGBT protections

Gay people would be protected from most forms of discrimination under a new proposal announced Wednesday by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Merkley’s bill, still in the early stages, would shield gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from being discriminated against not only at work, but also at schools, restaurants, hotels, banks and even in their own homes. The legislation is sure to face a heavy degree of Republican opposition when unveiled in the GOP-controlled Congress next year.

The LGBT bill might also target discrimination at religious institutions, Merkley suggested.

{mosads}“In dozens of states across the country, LGBT Americans lack the basic nondiscrimination protections that so many of us take for granted,” Merkley said during a speech at the Center for American Progress. “In North Carolina today, a gay man could be fired from his job just for being gay. In Michigan, a young couple could be denied the chance to buy their first home just because they’re both women. In Pennsylvania, a transgender woman could be denied service and kicked out of a restaurant just for being who she is. And all of this would be perfectly legal.

“Americans would be shocked to realize how much discrimination is still legal in our nation today. It’s time for a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination act that will guarantee equality to every LGBT American,” he added.

The move one week after the Obama administration announced new workplace protections for LGBT individuals employed by federal contractors.

But most Republicans in Congress have balked at broader legislative reforms.

Merkley said it is “unacceptable” that LGBT Americans still face legal discrimination in many states.

“If discrimination is wrong in marriage, it’s wrong in employment,” Merkley said. “If it’s wrong in employment, it’s wrong in housing. If it’s wrong in housing, it’s wrong in financial transactions and public accommodations.”

The legislation would also prevent discrimination against people because of their gender identity.

Merkley drew some Republican support last year for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but the bill only applied to the workplace and included a religious exemption for institutions such as churches, charities and religious schools.

With the new legislation, Merkley indicated he would “narrow” the religious exemption, though he said the specifics are still being negotiated.

Such a move could cost Merkley some Republican support, experts say.

“I think the religious exemption should track much more narrowly, or should track identically the provisions we currently have for race,” Merkley said.

Gay rights advocates said Merkley’s legislation is a step in the right direction.

“We are glad that Sen. Merkley has pledged to narrow the religious exemption for next year’s bill, but that’s not enough: We also need improvements in the bill’s pleading standards, burden of proof, and protections to ensure that mandatory arbitration does not lock LGBT Americans out of the courtroom door,” said Tico Almeida, founder and president of Freedom to Work.

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