Senate Passes Anti-Discrimination Bill

Gay rights advocates are celebrating a win today in the nation’s capital.

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill to ban workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people. Both Alaska senators voted for it. But, the bill is unlikely to become law.

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In the end, it wasn’t even close: 64-32. Sen. Mark Begich says the relative lack of controversy is a mark of how far the country has come on gay rights in recent years, and he thinks Alaska is no exception.

“I think Alaskans don’t believe in discrimination of any kind, and you shouldn’t discriminate in the workplace,” he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of 10 Republicans who joined the Democrats in voting in favor of the non-discrimination bill, known by its acronym: ENDA.

Current federal law already bans employers from firing or refusing to hire based on race, sex or ethnicity, but in Alaska and 28 other states, no law expressly bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Murkowski said on the Senate floor the existing categories leave some people out.

“Those in the LGBT Community for whom discrimination on the bases of sex doesn’t apply, so what ENDA does, is it bridges that gap, and it is time that that gap is resolved,” she said.

It has an exception for churches and religious schools. Still, it’s unlikely to pass the House, or even come to the floor.

House Speaker John Boehner opposes it. He says it would lead to frivolous lawsuits.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz