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Manchin to support LGBT jobs non-discrimination bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which explicitly bars employers from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Manchin had been the only Democratic senator who had not committed to supporting the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that he will bring ENDA to the floor of the Senate for a vote sometime before Thanksgiving, possibly as soon as next week.

The bill would make it illegal for employers to not hire someone -- or to otherwise discriminate against them -- based on the person's sexual orientation or gender identity. Most religious organizations are exempt from the bill's provisions.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for an employer to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It also is illegal to discriminate based on age or disability.

Manchin is the 59th senator to announce his support for the bill. That includes four Republicans who have either announced their support or voted for the bill in committee. Sixty votes are needed to clear a procedural hurdle.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., announced his support for the bill Tuesday, leaving Manchin as the last Democratic holdout. Manchin told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he was still undecided.

However, Jonathan Kott, Manchin's communications director, said Wednesday that Manchin will vote for the bill -- to clear procedural hurdles and on passage -- although he will not be a co-sponsor.

The bill has 54 co-sponsors -- 52 Democrats and two Republicans.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has indicated that he is likely to support ENDA -- he would be the key 60th vote -- but is still looking at tweaks to the bill regarding its exemption for religious organizations.

"I am inclined to support it anyway," Portman told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Some version of ENDA has been proposed in every Congress since at least 1994. A version passed the U.S. House in 2007, when Democrats controlled that chamber, but stalled in the Senate. If this version picks up the 60th vote and passes the Senate, it is almost certain to stall in the Republican-controlled House.

Versions of the bill have been proposed in the West Virginia Legislature the past few years, as well, but all have failed. During last spring's legislative session, a bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing failed to get out of committee in the House of Delegates.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"We are proud to see Sen. Joe Manchin standing on the right side of history and standing up for the values of equality and fairness," Casey Willits, director of Fairness West Virginia, an LGBT advocacy organization, said in a statement. "His support is vital to passing this legislation into law and protecting the millions of LGBT workers in the nation."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a co-sponsor of the bill, has long been a supporter of ENDA, voting yes on a similar bill as far back as 1996.

"I am against discrimination in all its forms," Rockefeller said in an emailed statement. "All people are created equally and they deserve to be treated fairly. We should never hold people back or limit them because of who they are."

Contacted Wednesday, none of West Virginia's representatives in the U.S. House would confirm a position on ENDA.

Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito, both Republicans, said they would review the legislation but added no further comment.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said, through a spokeswoman that it is unclear if Republicans in the House would bring ENDA up for a vote if it passes the Senate. He would not state his own position on the bill.

"The laws governing workplace discrimination deserve careful scrutiny by the Congress," Rahall said in an emailed statement, "not only to ensure the constitutional rights of every American, but also to guarantee basic fairness under the law."

Rahall and Capito voted against ENDA in 2007, the last time it was brought to a full vote in the House.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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