House passes gay protections

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill banning workplace discrimination against gays.

An array of Jewish groups backed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed late Wednesday by a vote of 235-184. They included the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Reform movement and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“Our nation has taken an important step forward toward equality of opportunity with approval of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act by the House of Representatives today,” ADL said in a statement. “ADL firmly believes that employment decisions such as hiring, firing, promotion and compensation should be based on merit, performance, and ability – and never on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation.”

The bill’s main backer was Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is Jewish and gay. Fellow Democrats gave him a standing ovation after he delivered a tearful appeal to Republicans to drop a procedural motion aimed at burying the bill.

It was the latest of many attempts at such legislation. The first, proposed in 1974, was introduced by two Jewish New York Democrats, Reps. Ed Koch and Bella Abzug.

The Orthodox Union noted that it did not endorse or oppose the bill, but praised its proponents for including a sweeping exemption for religious groups.

Another Orthodox group, Agudath Israel of America, expressed regret at the passage, saying it did not go far enough in protecting religious employers.

“It is flawed legislation that, at the very least, puts into jeopardy the free exercise rights of certain religiously-connected charities, businesses and occupations,” Agudah said in a statement. “Indeed, the bill diminishes religious rights in favor of other civil rights.”

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