In 1991, Connecticut became the fourth state in the nation to formally protect gay and lesbian workplace rights. In 2011, Connecticut became the 15th state to afford those same rights to transgender individuals.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate voted 61-30 to avoid a filibuster on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for non-religious employers.
It’s the first time the U.S. Senate has taken up the bill since 1996 and, despite it’s prospects in the U.S. House, if it passes it would mark a significant victory for gay rights advocates.
As he traveled the state Tuesday stumping for local municipal candidates, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a statement urging Congress to pass the legislation.
“It is not acceptable — nor legal — for a worker to be fired based on their religion, race, color, gender, nationality, age, or disability,” Malloy said. “And yet, under federal law, it is still legal to fire, deny job opportunities, or harass someone based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity — something that is not only wrong, but offensive, and contrary to the promise of all Americans to the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
He said an employee should be judged on how well they do their job.
Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy gave a speech on the Senate floor asking his colleagues to support the bill because he wants the rights afforded to Connecticut workers to be extended to all Americans.
“Right now in some states you can be fired from your job simply because of having a little photograph of your partner on your desk at work,” Murphy said.
He said he doesn’t buy the argument from opponents that passage of such legislation would harm their businesses because large multi-state and multi-national companies headquartered in Connecticut have been thriving under the legislation.
“The parade of horrible consequences that opponents of this bill say will happen just have not happened in Connecticut,” Murphy said Wednesday morning.
Officials from General Electric and Boehringer Ingelheim, two companies headquartered in Connecticut, agreed with Murphy’s analysis.
“These non-discrimination protections are consistent with our existing workplace policies,” Deborah Elam, president of the GE Foundation and GE’s Chief Diversity Officer, said in a press release. “We believe these protections communicate our own beliefs, and benefit the company by retaining talent, supporting our recruiting efforts, and marketing our consumer products.”
Paul Fonteyne, president and CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim USA, added that his company is “proud to have been a pioneer in recognizing the importance of including gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation in our non-discrimination policies.”
Opponents say the bill would impose burdens on businesses and hamper religious freedom. The legislative arm of the Family Research Council says in its literature that the legislation would “tarnish the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement by treating a person’s chosen sexual behaviors or their gender self-identification as a protected category in the nation’s civil rights laws.”
Opponents also have the support of House Speaker John Boehner.
“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Monday in a statement.
“We’re not dictating morality. We’re not harming the economy. We’re not undermining the religious community,” he said. “We’re just saying that you can’t discriminate against people in the workplace because of who they choose to love or who they are inside.”