Gay rights activists and opponents are preparing themselves for the likely passage of America’s first major gay rights bills.

It is widely expected that at least two gay-rights measures will gain approval in Congress this year.

These include a hate-crimes bill that would cover homophobic offences and a workplace bill that would include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination policy.

More controversially is a measure to abolish “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the policy that bans openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the military.

However, there remains doubt over whether or not it will succeed.

Gay rights activists, who have already witnessed these measures come before Congress only to be rebuffed at final passage, are readying themselves the legislative battle ahead.

“This is a major step in our struggle,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

“I know there’s a lot of despair on the other side,” he told the nashuatelegraph.com.

Now that the Democrats have control of Congress, the hate-crimes and workplace bills are generally expected to pass the Senate.

Matt Barber, a policy director for the conservative Concerned Women for America organisation, warned:

“With liberals in control, there’s a good possibility they’ll both pass.

“They’re both dangerous to freedom of conscience, to religious liberties, to free speech.”

The workplace bill, officially the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is currently being negotiated.

It is expected to incorporate not just sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination but also gender identity, which would provide additional protection for transgender employees.

All though this will make the bill more difficult to gain passage, Barney Frank, the democratic representative for Massachusetts , who is helping to draft the bill, told nashuatelegraph.com:

“With the proper amendments, I think we can get it.”

Barney is one of two openly gay members of Congress.

He is considering offering allowances to employers so they can enforce dress code and bathroom policies.

The protections offered by ENDA would not be unfamiliar for Americans. More than 85% of the Fortune 500 companies, as well as 17 states, already include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies.

Tony Perkins, the president of the Conservative Family Research Council, accused gay rights groups of exaggerating the extent of anti-gay discrimination in the workplace.

“I’m sure there’s probably a case here and there,” Perkins told nashuatelegraph.com.

“But I’ve seen more discrimination of people of religious faith than I’ve seen of gay people in the work force.”

ENDA was first introduced in 1994, and missed Senate passage in 1996 by one vote.

The hate-crimes bill passed some stages in both the House and Senate but was prevented from receiving final passage by Republican conservatives.