Fairness on the job: It's up to the House to end gay bias at work

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The U.S. Senate has voted to approve valuable, if imperfect, legislation that would prohibit job bias over sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is based on an unassailable premise: Employees ought to be hired, paid, promoted and fired because of their qualifications, experience and work quality. They should not face prejudice because of their race, religion, gender, ancestry, age, disability -- or sexual orientation. Polls show that most Americans support the bill.

Yet opponents of the measure trot out the despicable canard that an appeal for equality and fairness is a demand for "special rights." A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the Republican leader believes ENDA would "increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small-business jobs." (The law would not apply to employers with fewer than 15 workers.)

Obstructed economic growth hasn't been the result in the 21 states that have outlawed employment bias against people who are gay. Even opponents of ENDA concede that the state laws have not generated the volume of lawsuits that alarmist critics predicted. Hundreds of local governments and most major employers impose their own bans on anti-gay job discrimination, out of economic self-interest.

Both of Pennsylvania's senators backed ENDA. Republican Pat Toomey voted for it, and Democrat Bob Casey, who did not vote because he was with his wife during her recovery from surgery, has been a vocal proponent.

Now the question is whether enough lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House will support ENDA -- assuming that Mr. Boehner will permit a vote at all, rather than bury the bill to appease the radical members of his caucus.

ENDA is not ideal. It would exempt not just churches but also religious universities, schools, hospitals and charities from its provisions, even for jobs that are not religiously oriented.

Despite its flaws, ENDA would protect millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans against unjust discrimination in the workplace. Conferring this basic civil right is not only timely but overdue.

Do House Republicans believe that intolerance of gay people is still a winning political strategy? They might want to talk to Mr. Toomey and the nine other GOP senators who voted against bigotry -- if they can get the Tea Party's permission to do so.

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