A measure to ban discrimination against LGBT jurors was approved by a U.S. Senate committee on Thursday, marking the first time the issue has come to a vote in Congress.
The Jury Access for Capable Citizens and Equality in Service Selection (ACCESS) Act was included in a financial services appropriations bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The American Independent first reported on the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in jury service last year, prompting legislation in both the Senate and the House where the issue has quietly gained bipartisan support.
While it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status in jury service, no protections exist for sexual orientation or gender identity. In some cases, LGBT people have been removed as potential jurors in cases that involve gay rights issues, most recently in San Diego where a gay juror was removed from a panel that would decide the fate of marriage equality protesters.
Only three states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in jury service; California and Oregon passed legislation several years ago, and Minnesota’s Gov. Mark Dayton signed such a bill into law in May.
Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, as well as Republican Susan Collins of Maine have been advancing the issue in the Senate.
“Jury service is an important public service, and I am pleased that the committee has adopted our language that would prohibit potential jurors from being dismissed for service in federal trials based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Sen. Collins in a statement on Thursday.
Sen. Whitehouse added, “The justice system only can provide fair trials if juries accurately represent our communities,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m glad the Appropriations Committee has advanced this legislation to help ensure that no potential juror is blocked from serving solely based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.”