A gay rights bill cleared its first hurdle last night in the U.S. Senate but when it comes to a final vote, Iowa’s two U.S. senators will likely be divided on the issue. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Democrat Senator Tom Harkin is a strong advocate of the bill while Senator Chuck Grassley says he and many of his fellow Republicans have concerns. “Churches are exempted, let me make that clear,” Grassley says, “but beyond that, there’s a lot of religious-affiliated organizations that might be required to hire people that they don’t believe they should have to hire for strong religious convictions.”
The bill passed its first procedural vote 61-to-30, with all Democrats voting for it along with seven Republicans. In addition to the religious concerns, Grassley says the measure could result in costly legal battles. “There’s the general issue of just putting more red tape and possible lawsuits before small businesses,” Grassley says, “hindering hiring and all of that stuff.”
This bill is considered the first major gay rights bill to go before Congress in three years — since passage of the measure that abolished the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. If it passes, Grassley fears the bill would only generate more income for the nation’s legal system. Grassley says, “In a day and age when lawsuits seem to be the rule rather than the exception, you’re always careful about expanding areas and encouraging lawsuits.”
While the final version of the bill may look much different with various amendments attached, Grassley says he’ll likely oppose it. Grassley says, “It’ll be a heavy lift for me to vote for the bill.” Speaking on the Senate floor last night, Senator Harkin tried to rally support for the measure, saying: “We can show the American people that we can come together and we can lift our eyes above the haze and the smoke, the horizon, and we can make this country a better place for all. Let’s do this and let’s bring to the American people what they think they have already and what they know they want — which is a society free of discrimination.”
A final vote on the bill in the Senate may come later this week, but it’s future is uncertain in the Republican-led House.