AP reports that a Senate panel has approved a bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill had support from every one of the Democrats and three of the Republicans on the committee of 22, which indicates that it has a strong chance of passage in the Senate when it comes up for full vote.
Recent events nationally have show shifting attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gender identity issues. After years of fighting regarding a contentious ballot proposition in California that temporarily outlawed same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that supported a lower court's call that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court has also ruled that same-sex spouses are entitled to the same federal benefits as other married couples in states where gay marriage is legal.
"I think society is there and the things that have happened in the Supreme Court show we're ready to move on in a way we haven't moved on in the past," said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Democrats don't know whether the House of Representatives will even take up their own version of the bill, but they do expect to have 60 votes in the Senate, enough to beat any filibuster that may arise.
It is already against federal law for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, race and national origin. But there is no law to prevent an employer from firing or refusing to hire a worker solely because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The bill does contains an exemption for churches, religious schools and religious nonprofit organizations to make hiring decision based on their faith. That exemption was necessary to gain GOP support of the bill.