WASHINGTON -- Two years after being politically wounded by the issue of homosexuals in the military, President Clinton is backing a bill to outlaw job discrimination against homosexuals, the White House said yesterday.
In a letter sent to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a chief sponsor of the anti-discrimination legislation in the Senate, Mr. Clinton noted that in 41 states it is legal for a person to be dismissed from a job because of sexual orientation.
"Those who face this kind of job discrimination have no legal recourse, in either state or federal courts," he wrote to the Massachusetts Democrat. "This is wrong."
Gay rights leaders who have been lobbying the White House for Mr. Clinton's endorsement of the bill conceded that his backing would have little immediate effect, because the Republican Congress is set against the measure.
Still, the endorsement is the first time a sitting president has backed a major piece of legislation to secure equal rights for homosexuals and lesbians.
The bill, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would extend to sexual orientation the same federal protections against bias in hiring, promotions or dismissals that currently exist on the basis of age, race, sex, religion, color or national origin.
But to try to gather more support and trump the argument that they are seeking "special rights" for homosexuals, drafters carved out several exemptions.
The measure does not cover the armed forces, businesses with fewer than 15 employees and religious institutions.