White House boosts Merkley’s anti-discrimination bill

WASHINGTON — The Obama Administration Thursday endorsed full-scale protections for gay and transgender workers from job discrimination, giving a major boost to legislation written by Se. Jeff Merkley that is based on similar protections offered in Oregon.

“No American should be denied a job or the opportunity to earn promotions, pay raises and other benefits of employment because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identify, which have no bearing on work performance,” Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights told a Senate panel.

“No one should be fired because he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Period,” Perez told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He added: “This is a top legislative priority for the Obama administration.”

The bill offered by Merkley is the latest iteration of a legislation originally offered in 1994 by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Merkley’s bill is largely patterned after one he helped pass in Oregon in 2007 that provides protections against job discrimination.

It would prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.  Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.

While the similar legislation has been introduced in past years, objections from business and religious groups have derailed it. This year, however, Merkley and other lawmakers believe they have both the votes and public support necessary for passage.

“Discrimination is simply wrong,” Merkley said. “This bill takes us a major step toward equality in America.”

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