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Senate OKs Gay Rights, RU-486 Bills : Capitol: Religious right lobbied hard against both measures. One would bar job bias against homosexuals, the other urges U.S. trials of French abortion pill.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dealing a setback to the religious right on two politically charged issues, the state Senate on Wednesday voted to make it illegal for employers to discriminate against homosexuals and appealed to President Bush to lift the import ban on the French abortion drug RU-486.

The two proposals, both targets of a intensive lobbying campaign by fundamentalist Christian organizations, were returned to the Assembly for expected final legislative approval. Only the job discrimination bill is subject to action by Gov. Pete Wilson.

The governor said last spring that he is likely to sign legislation to outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment--a raw point with bedrock conservatives of Wilson’s Republican Party. More recently he has said he has not made up his mind even though the bill has been substantially weakened to encourage his signature.

The discrimination-in-employment bill, various versions of which have been introduced unsuccessfully since the mid-1970s, would add sexual orientation to the state’s list of categories protected from job bias.

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In 1984, then-Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed legislation backed by liberal religious groups and governmental and civil rights organizations that would have extended the ban on housing and employment discrimination to gays and lesbians.

The latest version of the bill, by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Los Angeles), cleared the Senate on a 25-10 vote, four more than needed, after supporters, including moderate Republican Sen. Becky Morgan of Los Altos Hills, mounted a major offensive. Freshman Sen. Tim Leslie (R-Auburn), who often is aligned with the religious right, was the only speaker against the bill.

Republican Sens. Edward R. Royce of Anaheim, John R. Lewis of Orange and Frank Hill of Whittier voted against the bill. Sen. Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk) voted in favor, and Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) did not cast a vote.

On the abortion issue, the Senate adopted, 23 to 9, a measure by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-South San Francisco) asking Bush and Congress to lift a federal “import alert” on the French drug RU-486 and urged that it be tested in California.

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Supporters maintain that in addition to providing a safer alternative to surgical abortion, the drug carries the promise of treating such major illnesses as AIDS, breast and brain cancer, diabetes and glaucoma.

One opponent of the proposal, the Committee on Moral Concerns, maintains that treating other ailments with RU-486 is merely a smoke screen by its supporters to bootleg the controversial drug into California so that it can be used for abortions.

Ordinarily the issue of abortion sets off heavy debate. But with the matter coming up immediately after the fight on the anti-discrimination bill and only minutes before the lunch hour, not a single anti-abortion senator stood to oppose the measure.

As an advisory resolution, the Speier proposal expresses the sentiment of the Legislature and is not subject to action by Wilson.

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In supporting the anti-discrimination bill, Senate Leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) noted the near absence of vocal opponents to the legislation. He suggested to election-conscious senators that “maybe the pressures from some of those organizations that call themselves churches is going to preclude you from casting the vote you would like to cast.”

Morgan startled the Senate when she scolded fellow Republicans for adhering to a political philosophy that she said favors reduction of welfare grants to the poor but at the same time erects barriers to employment of able, competent workers.

“As a member of a party that regularly votes to cut welfare costs and cut payments to individuals, it is pure hypocrisy . . . to vote to not protect a person’s right to seek and keep a job,” Morgan told her GOP colleagues. “You can’t have it both ways.”

But Leslie charged that enactment of the bill would “declare by official decree that the homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle, even deserving of special preferential status.” He maintained that a homosexual lifestyle “is not desirable or healthy or something to be promoted.”

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Roberti and others, however, argued that the issue boiled down to simple discrimination against people whose sexuality had nothing to do with their ability to perform a job for which they were qualified.

“To persecute them because of their demeanor, the way they behave, the way they shrug their shoulders, because of the accent in their voice and to say they are not entitled to a job, only to jokes and derision, that has got to go,” he said.

Existing law prohibits discrimination in housing and employment for certain protected categories, including race, sex, religion, physical handicap, national origin, marital status and age. The Friedman bill would add sexual orientation only to the employment list.

In an effort to make the bill more palatable to Wilson and Republicans, Friedman earlier removed discrimination in housing from among the bill’s prohibitions. In still another step, he amended it to stress that the legislation would not authorize hiring quotas for homosexuals.

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Wilson has been swamped with calls and letters from both sides of the issue. “The volume is heavy with the mail about evenly split pro and con,” said Wilson spokesman Franz Wisner. “The phone calls tend to be more con. It’s the No. 1 issue in terms of phone calls and mail.”


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