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Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I want to follow my friend and colleague from Minnesota in explaining why I too support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA.
As she has very well articulated, the notion that somehow or other discrimination of any kind against anybody should be allowed in our workplaces is something I hope we would be able to, on a bipartisan basis, come together on from all corners of the country and recognize this is not an acceptable direction, this is not a place or a process we should endorse.
As we all know, current law protects against discrimination in the workplace for many classes of individuals. Many of us have been involved in working to refine these laws that protect against discrimination--discrimination that affects employment practice not on the basis of the merit of one's work or qualifications, but solely on the basis of factors unrelated to an individual's work experience, such as race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, disability, and sex or gender. We have made sure to put in place these protections against discrimination in the workplace for these classes, these categories of individuals. But we now need to do the same for those in the LGBT community, for whom discrimination on the basis of sex does not apply. ENDA bridges that gap, and it is time that gap was closed. In fact, that separation that has been in place is eliminated here.
Discrimination should never be tolerated in any workplace. It just should not be tolerated in any workplace or, really, anywhere for that matter. It is just pretty simple--no discrimination. I am a strong believer that individuals should be judged on the merit of their work and not how they look or how they are perceived to be.
Folks sometimes look at Alaska through a different lens. They think you are out of sight, out of mind up north. We have a small population with just a little over 700,000 people, but our communities across the State host a very significant LGBT community. In the three largest cities--Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau--by some estimates we are told we rank in the top half of cities around the country with 50 or more same-sex couples. So in the population centers in Alaska, we have what I would describe for a State with a small population a very significant and important part of our community, because the contributions that come to our community because of those within the LGBT community make us, quite honestly, a better place--a better place to live and work and raise a family. And I believe that strongly.
We have a diverse population. A lot of people don't recognize or think about our ethnic diversity up north. We actually have the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the United States of America in my hometown of Anchorage, in the neighborhood of Mountain View. In the elementary school where my kids spent their early years, there were over 50 home languages of the students in that neighborhood school. It is a pretty diverse community. It is a very rich community because of our diversity. Part of that diversity comes to us through the LGBT community. And they are white, black, Hispanic, Native, urban, and rural; they are the active military and our veterans' population; they are young and they are old. They are very involved and very engaged in our workforce.
Several weeks ago, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce hosted their president in Anchorage for their weekly chamber presentation. For our community's chamber, it was an interesting enough speaker that the local newspaper actually did an advanced story about it. There were some who were a little anxious and concerned that perhaps this would bring out some aspects of the community who would say: We don't want to see discrimination end in our workplace; we don't want to be welcoming of our LGBT community. As it turned out, it was exactly the opposite. The reception at the chamber meeting was one of inclusion and one of a desire to truly embrace the economic opportunities that come with a community which embraces all people, all genders, and truly all Americans.
When we were approaching the markup of ENDA in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, there was considerable outflow of support and communications from constituents all over the State. They shared their stories of employment discrimination for a host of different reasons. They told that they were discriminated against because they were too gay, they were discriminated against because they were too feminine or too masculine for their place of employment, and in terms of the outcry from constituents in saying: Please finally address this, please ensure that in our workplaces there is no discrimination; there is not only a friendly workplace, but a workplace where we are free from any form of retaliation.
Like any proposed legislation that affects employers and employees alike, I believe we have to find appropriate balance. We have to strike that between protecting employees against discrimination in the workplace and making sure that employers are not unduly burdened with compliance costs. I think we recognize that. We have to find this appropriate balance among legal remedies and redress.
I am pleased the Senate has adopted Senator Portman's amendment today, which I have supported, which protects religious employers from retaliation by the government when they adhere to their religious convictions and then also clarifies the importance of protecting religious freedom as part of ENDA. I think that is an improvement to the bill, and I am pleased we have been able to advance that.
I wish to recognize Senator Merkley for his leadership on this issue--I think from the very time he came here to the Senate, he has approached me in discussion about advancing the ENDA legislation, ensuring that from the perspective of our workplaces there is full equality, there is no discrimination within the workplace--and Senator Kirk, for his leadership in this initiative as well.
I am also pleased we are going to have an opportunity tomorrow to hopefully advance this bill fully and finally through the floor of the Senate. It is well past time that we, as elected representatives, ensure that our laws protect against discrimination in the workplace for all individuals, and we ensure those same protections for those within the LGBT community. I look forward to the vote tomorrow, and hope there is strong support for ensuring a level of fairness throughout our workplaces in this Nation.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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