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Gay Rights Bill Narrowly OKd by Assembly : Discrimination: Legislation would outlaw job bias on the basis of sexual orientation. Governor vetoed similar measure last year.


SACRAMENTO — The Assembly on Thursday narrowly approved a bill affording protection in the workplace to homosexuals that resembles legislation vetoed last year by Gov. Pete Wilson, an act that provoked angry demonstrations in three cities.

Thousands of gay-rights protesters took to the streets in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento, accusing the governor of bowing to political pressure.

A 42-30 vote, one more than the simple majority required for approval, sent the new version of the legislation authored by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Los Angeles) to the Senate.

"All this bill is about is fundamental fairness," Friedman told his colleagues. "It guarantees a person's opportunity to get and keep a job based on qualification and performance--not a person's private lawful behavior."

The bill would ban discrimination by employers on the basis of sexual orientation. Similar protections exist covering race, religion, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical handicap, medical condition, marital status, sex and age.

Friedman said the legislation would write into law Administration policy--formulated after last year's controversial veto--directing the state Labor Commissioner to investigate discrimination complaints by gays and lesbians.

But an opponent, Assemblyman David Knowles (R-Sacramento), called the measure an attempt to force a "dangerous, disgusting and repugnant" lifestyle that poses a "very real threat to public health" upon the citizenry of California.

In his 1991 veto message, the governor said he feared that the bill would lead to a flood of lawsuits against small business owners and that there is sufficient legal protection for gays.

Friedman's new bill to prohibit job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would not apply to business firms with fewer than five employees, churches or other religious nonprofit institutions.

It also would write into law a 1991 state Court of Appeal ruling that extends job protections to gays, but which has been temporarily set aside by the state Supreme Court pending its review of the case.

Covered employers would be prohibited from using quotas or other affirmative action programs to enforce the bill's provisions.

Forty-one Democrats and Assemblyman William J. Filante (R-Greenbrae) voted for the bill. Twenty-seven Republicans and three Democrats voted against it. The Democrats were Assemblymen Bob Epple of Norwalk, Gerald R. Eaves of Rialto and Sal Cannella of Modesto.

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