A committee of the US House of Representatives yesterday approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
The proposed legislation, which covers gay, lesbian and bisexual but not trans people, will now to the floor of the House for a vote next week.
The landmark Act was originally designed to protect the American LGBT community from workplace discrimination.
However, ENDA’s leading proponents – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and out gay Congressman Barney Frank – opted to exclude trans people from its remit in order to ensure it got enough votes to pass.
A coalition of more than 300 rights groups under the banner of United ENDA opposed the move.
The only other out gay member of Congress, Tammy Baldwin, has secured an agreement from the Democratic leadership to reintroduce trans protections by way of an amendment on the floor of the House.
ENDA, which would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or promote a person based on sexual orientation, is expected to pass.
This is the first time since 1994 that legislation that protects LGB people at work has been brought to the House.
ENDA’s supporters in the Senate will need the votes of 60 of the 100 Senators rather than a simple majority to overcome expected Republican attempts to kill the legislation.
Currently 17 states have protections for LGB people; eight of those states extend that protection to trans people.
In 1996 similar legislation failed in the Senate by one vote.
87% of the top Fortune 500 companies in the US already provide protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The US military and religious organisations are excluded from the legislation, which also does not force employers to extend benefits to same-sex partners.