Forget the current health care debacle, the recent government shutdown and the contentious immigration reform bill for a moment — Congress might actually do something productive. The Senate is currently considering a measure that would protect the LGBT community from bias in the workplace. \
While this country has bans on discriminatory behavior based on race, religion and gender, there is no such law based on sexual orientation. Although some states do protect their citizens from this type of prejudice, a whopping 29 do not provide any protection for this group in our society. This allows employers to discriminate more easily if they want to.
If passed, this law could serve as somewhat of a consolation prize to civil rights leaders, who witnessed something recently deemed unimaginable over the summer — the Supreme Court’s effective guttering of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Alternatively it could be said that the 61-30 vote to “Proceed on Measure to Ban Workplace Bias Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” is building off another recent Supreme Court decision that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. That decision gave the gay rights movement huge momentum.
According to the New York Times, this recent Senate vote “marks the first time since 1996 that the full Senate will consider a measure to extend federal nondiscrimination law to gay, lesbian and bisexual people.” This a reminder of how we as a society have become accepting to gay rights in the past two decades and how Congress has not been always in step with its constituents’ views.
This is also the first time that either house of Congress has voted on a nondiscrimination bill that includes transgender people. There are still many hurdles to jump if this bill is to find its way to the Oval Office. Even if the bill passes in the Senate (this is seemingly more and more likely since the law has become filibuster-proof because it cleared the 60-vote threshold), the conservative House of Representatives — a frequent victim of the Tea Party — stands in the way of progress.
Many mainstream, moderate Republicans see issues like this as a way to get into the national spotlight and recapture the presidency in 2016. At the same time they remain afraid of the right side of the party and their ridiculously gerrymandered districts if they were to vote as a compromising centrist.
Whether the Republicans and Democrats can finally come together in a bipartisan nature and overcome extremists in the Tea Party remains to be seen. In their quest to win a national election, Republicans should keep in mind that while radicalism may be rewarded in Congress, a president’s constituency is much more broadly and moderately defined.
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