Ayotte, Shaheen back ban on employer discrimination against gays, transgender people
FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2013, file photo Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., questions President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., during his Capitol Hill confirmation hearing. Ayotte and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, voted yesterday, Nov. 4, 2013, to support a federal ban on workplace discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity. (AP File Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Both of New Hampshire’s U.S. senators – Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte – voted yesterday to support a federal ban on workplace discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Ayotte remained uncommitted on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act until last night, when she and six other Republicans helped the Democratic-backed bill clear an initial procedural hurdle in the Senate.
Sixty votes were needed to proceed to debate and an eventual vote on the bill. It got 61.
“Sen. Ayotte believes that people in the workplace should be judged based on their qualifications and performance. She believes that discrimination has no place in the workplace and she supports ENDA,” said spokesman Jeff Grappone in a statement.
Grappone said Ayotte does hope to improve the bill’s exemption for religious groups.
“She believes that the protections for religious organizations in the bill are very important, and she will strengthen those protections by offering a bipartisan amendment to ensure that religious organizations can’t be retaliated against for exercising their religious freedoms,” he said.
Shaheen is one of the legislation’s co-sponsors.
“No one should have to worry about their job because of who they are and who they love,” Shaheen said in a statement. “We ought to extend workplace protections for LGBT Americans in the interest of fairness and equality and hopefully, with the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, we can finally end this type of discrimination.”
The bill appears likely to pass the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, later this week. But it faces long odds in the Republican-led House.
In New Hampshire, state law since 1998 has banned workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The state anti-discrimination law doesn’t mention gender identity.
Shaheen’s vote puts her in sync on the issue with one of the Republicans running against her in 2014: Jim Rubens, an Etna Republican and former state senator.
“For me, it’s pretty clear-cut: We are protecting people from workplace discrimination as a result of inborn traits, very, very similar to race, national origin and gender,” Rubens said yesterday. “There is very, very strong agreement among Americans that you should not have discrimination on the basis of race and gender, for example, and I believe this bill provides the same protection under the law for another class of persons.”
Karen Testerman, a conservative activist from Franklin who also is running for the Senate next year, said she opposes ENDA. She called it an issue for the states, citing the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“New Hampshire already has laws addressing discrimination. Are we not complying with those laws? If not, the problem is enforcement of state law,” Testerman said in a message. “That being said this really is a state issue.”
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)