House approves gay-rights bill

The House has approved legislation that bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Approved 235-184, the bill would protect gay, lesbian and bisexual employees and prohibit employers from using sexual orientation as a basis for hiring, firing, promoting or compensating.

The legislation has been a priority for the Democratic majority, and Senate Labor and Education Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has signaled that he may call the bill directly to the Senate floor next year.

However, the White House has raised the possibility of a veto, deeming the bill constitutionally inconsistent with exercising religious freedom and as using "imprecise" language, as well as being difficult to enforce. The House vote is far from what is needed to override a veto. In addition, if there is a Senate filibuster to slow the legislation's progress, 60 Senate votes would be needed to overcome it.

The House bill would exempt companies with fewer than 15 employees, and an amendment specifies that the legislation doesn't change federal same-sex marriage policy. But some Republicans say the bill's language invites challenging the prohibition of gay marriage. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said "religious rights" were being "trumped by sexual rights in our workplace."

Firing an employee based on sexual orientation is legal in 30 states. Similar discrimination legislation has been introduced in Congress since 1975; the current legislation has advanced the farthest.

Date : 11/13/2007