Discrimination is un-American. Reinforcing that important belief, the U.S. Senate voted last week to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The historic, bipartisan vote capped a long campaign that began when then-Sen. Edward Kennedy first introduced similar legislation in 1994.
Sadly, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act may not even get a vote in the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner, a foe of the bill, signaled last week that he won't bring it to the floor. That's shameful. The bill ought to become law. And even though House passage is a long shot, voters deserve to know where their representatives stand on this question of basic fairness.
The bill the Senate approved on Thursday by 64-32, with the support of 10 Republicans, simply extends to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people the same federal protections against discrimination in hiring, firing, promotions and compensation already provided based on race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability.
Opponents warn that the legislation would lead to frivolous lawsuits and cost jobs. But the District of Columbia and 22 states, including New York, ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Seventeen of them also bar discrimination based on gender identity. There has been no explosion of litigation in those places, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study released in July.
The nation has had a strong run on gay rights. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex spouses can't be denied federal benefits available to other married couples. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 14 states and the District of Columbia. And since 2010, gay men and lesbians have been allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military.
The House should make sure this historic expansion of equal rights doesn't end at the workplace door.