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Advocacy groups target U.S. Sen. Rob Portman for ENDA support

Advocacy groups target U.S. Sen. Rob Portman for ENDA support

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman hasn’t decided yet whether U.S. employers should be able to fire workers just because they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

But over the next two months, a campaign to send thousands of postcards and phone calls Portman’s way is aimed at helping the Ohio Republican make up his mind.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

Volunteers from the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Ohio began collecting supporters’ signed postcards at festivals and Labor Day events across the state last weekend. They’re also starting twice-weekly phone banks in Columbus that will patch supporters directly to Portman’s office.

Upcoming community meetings in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Athens, Kettering and Bowling Green will bring more people into the effort to win Portman’s vote for a Senate bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the nation’s anti-discrimination laws.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), first proposed in 1994, won an endorsement in July from the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, but backers say it’s still five votes short of victory in the full Senate.

Portman is one of 11 Republican senators targeted as potential supporters by a coalition called Americans for Workplace Opportunity. The effort includes LGBT civil-rights groups, labor unions and other organizations.

Portman, who has a gay son, announced in March that he believes gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry.

But while supporting the “concept” of an anti-discrimination law for LGBT workers, he also has expressed reservations about its impact on religious institutions and its potential for lawsuits.

“He’s officially undecided,” said Rob Young, a Columbus-based field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign. “We don’t know which way he’s going to go.”

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Young said the campaign to convince Portman will continue through mid-November, although a Senate vote on ENDA could come earlier.

Ohio’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, is a sponsor of the bill and a longtime supporter.

A Senate victory for ENDA likely would be symbolic, however, as few hold hope that the legislation would advance in the GOP-controlled U.S. House.

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