Advocates for a bill in Congress that would protect employees regardless of their sexual orientation touted the legislation Tuesday, calling it essential for attracting a competitive workforce to North Carolina.
At an event hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, leaders called on U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, both from North Carolina, to back the bill, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Burr and Hagan both serve on the Senates 22-member Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will vote on the bill Wednesday. The legislation would protect members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Burr and Hagan are expected to take opposing stances on the bill. Hagan, a Democrat and a co-sponsor of the legislation, has previously lauded the act as an opportunity for all workers to fulfill their potential without discrimination. But Burr, a Republican, said in a statement Tuesday that he plans to oppose the bill, saying that it could impose new burdens and legal uncertainties regarding the exercise of religious liberties.
But Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said treating the legislation as a partisan issue is a detriment to the nations economy including for Charlotte and its businesses.
In order to compete for the best, most highly skilled employees, you have to show a commitment to treating those employees fairly, and with dignity, Griffin said during a news conference at Charlottes Government Center. Its more than an issue of justice its an issue of competitiveness.
Are we comfortable losing this countrys economic edge by clinging to apathy, or worse, discrimination? he added.
To evaluate whether a community treats its LGBT citizens fairly, the Human Rights Campaign created an index, called the Municipal Equality Index, which examines the policies of cities to determine their inclusiveness.
Charlotte received a 39 out of 100 on the scale, trailing far behind cities such as Philadelphia and St. Louis, which both received a score of 100. Charlottes score was largely brought down by what the Human Rights Campaign called restrictive laws, such as Amendment One, a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2012 defining marriage solely as the union between a man and a woman.
Burr said in a statement that while he opposes unjust discrimination, he remains concerned about the bills implications.
It is my hope that our society can be tolerant of different people and ideas, Burr said. That said, whenever we consider new legislation we must always consider the interplay of new laws with existing rights.
I am concerned that the ENDA bill would go beyond our existing laws protecting individuals employment rights.
Griffin said businesses across the nation have joined a Human Rights Campaign coalition to show support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Hilton Worldwide, the Virginia-based hospitality company, became the 100th member of the coalition Tuesday. Griffin said three North Carolina businesses are also members of the coalition: Self-Help Credit Union, the Charlotte-based financial services company; Replacements Ltd., the McLeansville-based dinnerware company; and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, the Taylorsville-based furniture company.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in all but one Congress since 1994. However, President Barack Obama said last month that he wants to see the long-stalled legislation enacted by Congress.
McCabe: 704-358-5197; Twitter: @mccabe_caitlin
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