JUNEAU — Alaska’s U.S. senators voted with the majority Thursday in approving legislation that would bar workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Democratic Sen. Mark Begich called it a matter of fairness. He said in a statement it’s not right that in some states, people can still be fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a floor speech that discrimination should never be tolerated — in the workplace or anywhere else. She said individuals should be judged on their merits “and not how they look or how they are perceived to be.”
The bill would bar employers with at least 15 workers from using someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for employment decisions, including hiring, firing or compensation. Religious institutions and the military would be exempt. The measure’s chances in the House are considered iffy.
In the lead-up to the Senate vote, the president of the conservative Alaska Family Action, Jim Minnery, sent email blasts urging people to contact Murkowski and urge her to vote against the measure. Minnery said he sees the measure as a “true infringement on religious liberty.”
“I just think it’s really, to be honest, encouraging that it’s becoming so apparent that she’s so far to the left in the Republican party that it’s going to make a clear distinction for folks in 2016,” Minnery said.
Murkowski would stand for re-election in 2016.
Earlier this year, Murkowski became one of the first Senate Republicans to publicly announce her support for same-sex marriage.