WASHINGTON — The Mormon church and its members are coming around in favor of gay rights, Sen. Harry Reid said as the Senate passed a bill Thursday that would expand workplace protections to embrace gays, lesbians, bisexuals and persons who are transgendered.
Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, a fellow member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also voted for the measure, which passed 64-32. In all, five of seven Mormon senators voted aye, including longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who opposed a similar bill 17 years ago.
Interviewed Wednesday by a group of reporters writing for LGBT publications, Reid was asked how he reconciled his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act 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, that there are many Mormons like him.
“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, which took part in the interview. Its account was confirmed by a Reid spokeswoman on Thursday.
Reid has spoken in personal terms when it comes to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, 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. “It’s just with my five children, it’s a nonissue, but for my three adult grandchildren, it’s a non-non-non-issue.”
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. It also contained an exemption for religious organizations.
Heller became the key 60th senator to come out for the measure on Monday, ensuring it could survive a filibuster.
Among other Mormon senators, New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake voted for the bill while Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Mike Crapo of Idaho voted against it.
The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not take a position ENDA, a spokesman said.
The church put out a statement Thursday evening saying, “Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position.”
While staying on the sidelines on workplace protections for gays, the church emphasized it remains opposed to same-sex marriage.
“If it is being suggested that the church’s doctrine on this matter is changing, that is incorrect.”
The church endorsed a workplace anti-discrimination law passed by the Salt Lake City Council in 2009. Church lawyers also have negotiated with gay rights leaders on a statewide ban on housing and job discrimination.
Following Senate passage, Democrats and activists began pressuring House Republican leaders and rank and file to back the bill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said this week he opposed it and the House was unlikely to act.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., was on military duty with the U.S. Army Reserve and was not available, spokesman Greg Lemon said. Heck “does not tolerate discrimination and believes all Americans should be treated fairly in the workplace,” Lemon said.
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., was traveling in the state and could not be immediately reached, his office said. A spokesman said Amodei “will evaluate a House version on its merits.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter