Portman: Congress may be able to pass bill protecting gays in the workplace

As the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether existing law shields LGBT individuals from discrimination, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said lawmakers may be able to pass a federal bill that calls for protecting gay Americans from discrimination in the workplace.

The Cincinnati Republican voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act six years ago but the legislation later stalled in the then GOP-controlled U.S. House. It called for prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The U.S. House is considering the Equality Act, which Portman described as more broad than ENDA.

“I can get behind the part that says you shouldn’t discriminate against somebody based on their sexual orientation. I think you shouldn’t be able to be fired because you’re gay,” Portman said. “I think if it’s that concept, I think we can get it done. I do.”

Portman made the remarks in an interview with the Dayton Daily News when he was asked about the LGBT discrimination cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Related: Divided Supreme Court weights LGBT people's rights

A key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title 7 bars job discrimination because of sex, among other reasons. In recent years, some courts have read that language to include discrimination against LGBT people as a subset of sex discrimination.

“This might inspire us to take another run at something that might be bipartisan, but we’ll see what the court does. I wouldn’t be surprised if the court makes a decision that broadens the current interpretation of the civil rights laws. I just don’t know,” Portman said.

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In March 2013, Portman reversed his opposition to gay marriage after his son, Will, then a junior at Yale University, came out to his parents as gay. Portman’s reversal drew fire from conservative political corners within his own party.

Portman said getting a non-discrimination law through the Senate could be more difficult because key Republican allies have left since ENDA passed the Senate in November 2013.

In June 2015 in a case originating in Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the right for same-sex couples to marry is constitutionally guaranteed.

Related: Ohio lawmaker pushes LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill

At the state level, state Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace, housing and places of public accommodation. She has introduced the bill each legislative session since 2003.

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