Despite protests from gay rights supporters that it doesn't protect transgender workers, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved the first federal ban on job discrimination against bisexuals, gays and lesbians.
The term transgender covers transsexuals, cross-dressers and others whose outward appearance does not match their gender at birth.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act measure would make it illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation. It would exempt churches and the military.
"Bigotry and homophobia are sentiments that should never be allowed to permeate the American workplace," said House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.
Supporters of the House bill, which passed by a 235-184 vote, are expecting a tough fight in the narrowly divided Senate, where Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy plans to introduce a similar version.
A veto from President Bush is promised if the proposal does pass the Senate. The White House has cited constitutional concerns and said the proposal could trample religious rights.
Republicans said the bill could undermine the rights of people who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons and lead to an onslaught of dubious discrimination lawsuits.
Only nine states specifically protect transgender people from discrimination: New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Mexico, California, Illinois, Maine, Hawaii, Washington. The District of Columbia has a similar law.