Merkley announces plans for legislation with broad LGBT protections

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) AP

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)AP

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Wednesday he plans to introduce a broad measure aimed at preventing discrimination against LGBT Americans, not just in employment but also with regard to public accommodations, housing, jury service and financial transactions.

Merkley announced the sweeping legislation, still in the early stages, at an event unveiling a “landmark” report on LGBT discrimination at the Center for American Progress in Washington, reports The Hill.

The report, titled “We the People,” catalogues the multiple areas of public life in which LGBT people are not afforded uniform and explicit protections under federal or state law, noting that in 29 states it is still legal to fire, refuse housing, or deny service to Americans because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“In dozens of states across the country, LGBT Americans lack the basic nondiscrimination protections that so many of us take for granted,” said Merkley.

“In North Carolina today, a gay man could be fired from his job just for being gay. In Michigan, a young couple could be denied the chance to buy their first home just because they’re both women. In Pennsylvania, a transgender woman could be denied service and kicked out of a restaurant just for being who she is. And all of this would be perfectly legal.

“Americans would be shocked to realize how much discrimination is still legal in our nation today. It’s time for a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination act that will guarantee equality to every LGBT American.”

Merkley said it is “unacceptable” that LGBT Americans still face such widespread legal discrimination.

A longtime champion of the the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — which was approved in the Democratic-controlled Senate last year but has never come to a vote in GOP-led House — Merkley sure to face heavy Republican opposition when unveiled in the GOP-controlled Congress next year.

The Oregon Senator drew some GOP support for ENDA last year, but the bill only applied to the workplace and included a broad exemption for churches and religious institutions — exemptions Merkley says he intends to “narrow” in the new bill.

ENDA’s opponents, including House Speaker John Boehner, have argued the bill is an “unnecessary” solution in search of a problem.

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But the authors of the new report, who spent four months compiling studies and research on the topic, say they hope the study will put those objections to rest, and give lawmakers vital statistics to argue for the bill’s passage.

“The reality is that LGBT people face pervasive discrimination in all areas of life throughout the country,” says lead author Sarah McBride. “Marriage equality is an incredibly important issue … At the same time, our country shouldn’t be pacified by that progress. We shouldn’t mistake that progress for victory.”

The Center for American Progress report notes that in 11 states, a same-sex couple could get married on Saturday, and then be legally fired on Monday morning because they are gay.

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