WASHINGTON -- Members of the Mormon Church are coming around in favor of gay rights, Sen. Harry Reid says as the Senate prepared Thursday to pass a bill expanding workplace civil rights to embrace gays, lesbians, bisexuals and persons who are transgendered.
Interviewed Wednesday by a group of reporters writing for LGBT publications, Reid was asked how he reconciled his support for the measure with his faith as a Mormon, a religion that historically was associated with intolerance on gay rights.
Reid said he is not out of the mainstream among fellow churchgoers in the capital.
“When I attend church here in Washington, D.C., I bet more people agree with me than disagree with me, and so the church is changing, and that’s good,” Reid said, according to the Washington Blade.
Reid has spoken in personal terms when it comes to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, just as he does when he talks about how his views have evolved in favor of same-sex marriage.
He said his children, and particularly his grandchildren, have been a big influence.
“For me to feel any differently about this, they wouldn’t feel proud of their grandfather,” Reid said, according to the Blade. “It’s just with my five children, it’s a non-issue, but for my three adult grandchildren, it’s a non-non-non-issue. They can’t imagine why anyone gives a damn.”
Earlier this year, Reid revealed he has a niece who is a lesbian, and he did not believe her job as a schoolteacher should be affected by that.
On Wednesday, Reid was asked whether he has spoken with her recently. He said she called and left a message.
“She’s, of course, proud of her uncle,” Reid said. "But she and I don’t need to dwell on the issue, she’s just like everybody else.”
As for the next steps, Reid told reporters he was concerned about bullying.
“As I was growing up, somebody who was ‘queer’ was really easy to pick on,” Reid said. “I was not in that category, but I saw it happen, and I didn’t do enough to speak out.”
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make it a crime for employers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual identification. It already is illegal to discriminate for age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and disability.
Besides Reid, who as Senate majority leader has engineered the bill’s path, other Mormons played key roles in advancing ENDA.
For the first time, veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voted for the bill as it moved through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in July, and again this week in a key procedural vote.
And Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller became the key 60th senator to come out for the measure on Monday, ensuring it could survive a filibuster.
“I feel that supporting this legislation is the right thing to do,” Heller said.
Other Mormon senators were split: New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall voted for the bill in a test vote this week, while Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Lee of Utah and Mike Crapo of Idaho voted against it.
While the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not taken a position on the ENDA bill, it endorsed a similar law passed by the Salt Lake City Council in 2009, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Church lawyers also have negotiated with gay rights leaders on a statewide ban on housing and job discrimination.
While voting for ENDA, Hatch cited the bill’s exemption for religious organizations and their affiliates. Some gay rights advocates have expressed concerns the exemption is too broad, but Reid said Wednesday it couldn’t be helped, at least not at this point.
“There’s nothing we do that’s perfect,” he told reporters. “The goal is to get something passed, move forward. And this allows us to move forward.”
On Wednesday the Senate by voice vote approved an amendment sponsored by a half-dozen Republicans including Heller. It would prevent federal, state and local governments from retaliating against religious groups that take an exemption.