The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Forget Congress: 21 states already protect gays in the workplace

Gail Stockman, 60, left, and Beth Black, 58, of Albuquerque, N.M., prepare to marry at a massive wedding in Albuquerque Civic Plaza on Aug. 27. (Russell Contreras/AP)
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A gay rights bill passed a substantial hurdle in the Senate on Monday, but it is unlikely to see similar success in the House. But in 21 states and D.C., some of its protections are already in place.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which the Senate is expected to pass this week, extends workplace protections against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity as well. It would also prohibit hiring, firing, promotion or compensation decisions based on those criteria.

In a news release, the Human Rights Campaign, which fights for gay rights, said the Senate’s action Monday represented “tremendous momentum” in the fight. But few expect it to clear the Republican-held House. Even if ENDA never sees the light of day in the House, gay, lesbian and bisexual workers in 21 states and Washington, D.C., enjoy protections against workplace discrimination. All but four also protect against discrimination based on gender identity.

In the below July map, HRC maps out which states currently have such laws. Those in purple only offer protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those in yellow protect against discrimination based both on orientation and identity.

But that’s little consolation to gay rights proponents who argue that there is little discrimination on those grounds in those states anyway, a claim backed up by a July Government Accountability Office report.

Research shows that majorities support such measures in every state, ranging from a low of 63 percent in Mississippi to a high of 81 percent in Massachusetts, as depicted in the map below by Columbia University’s Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips.