WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are unified in backing a bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a significant boost for the measure ahead of a crucial Senate vote.
Sen. Joe Manchin, the last Democratic holdout, is now supporting the legislation, a spokesman said Wednesday. The West Virginia lawmaker joins Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Bill Nelson of Florida, who indicated this week that they back the legislation that is critical to gay rights advocates.
Current federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race and national origin, but it doesn’t stop an employer from firing or refusing to hire a worker solely because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The bill would bar employers with 15 or more workers from using a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for making employment decisions, including hiring, firing, compensation or promotion.
With a vote possible as early as next week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., needs 60 votes to overcome a likely Republican-led filibuster. Reid has the support of all 52 Democrats, two independents and is expected to get the vote of Democrat Cory Booker, who will be sworn in as New Jersey senator on Thursday.
Four Republican senators also support the measure — Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — putting Reid within one vote of 60.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have already approved laws banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 17 of those also prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender identity.
About 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies have already adopted non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign. About 57 percent of those companies include gender identity.
A similar measure went to the Senate floor in 1996, but failed to pass on a 50-49 vote. The previous measure did not include protections for transgender people.