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Progress in Several States on Sexual Orientation Discrimination Laws

It was announced today that New Mexico may soon become the 14th state to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and the third to have a law making gender identity discrimination illegal. See Human Rights Campaign press release.) A celebration is slightly premature, however, as the House and Senate must reconcile different versions of the bill (House Bill 314, Senate Bill 28) before the bill goes to the Governor, Democrat Bill Richardson, who has already pledged to sign it. The reconciliation of the two bills may take a few weeks, due to the backlog of other bills.

While things are moving a little more slowly in the state of Illinois, capital-watchers in that state also recently reported progress on sexual orientation legislation. See Sun-Times article.) Yesterday (Feb. 28), a Senate committee approved a sexual orientation discrimination ban, (Senate Bill 101), an addition to the Illinois Human Rights Act, by a vote of 8-4. In the past, similar bills have passed in the state House but failed in a Republican-controlled Senate. Now that the Democrats control the Senate, the bill is seen as possibly having a better chance, however, the bill’s ultimate prognosis remains unclear. Some Democrats from more rural areas who supported the bill in committee may end up voting against the bill on the Senate floor, and the bill’s cosponsor, Sen. Carol Ronen (D-Chicago) said she won’t call for a vote by the full Senate unless she has enough votes for it to pass. Newly-elected Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and new Senate President Emil Jones Jr., a Chicago Democrat, both support the plan. While the Illinois bill does not explicitly make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, the bill’s definition of sexual orientation should encompass transgender discrimination, with the definition of sexual orientation including those “having or being perceived as having a gender-related self-identity, appearance, expression, or behavior, whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth.” Several other states have also introduced anti-discrimination legislation this year. For an update on all pending state legislative efforts, see HRC’s What’s Happening in Your State page.)

For more information on existing discrimination laws in the states, see the Workplace Fairness sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination pages.

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