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Human Rights Campaign endorses senator.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley has been endorsed for re-election by the Human Rights Campaign, which plans a gala on behalf of gay and lesbian rights Saturday in Portland.

Merkley led the floor debate that resulted in Senate approval of legislation to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Senate passed the bill last year, almost 20 years after it was first introduced by then-Sen. Edward Kennedy.

"The historic passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate last year could not have happened without his tireless work," says David Stacy, director of governmental affairs for the Human Rights Campaign.

"From the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' to marriage equality and other issues of fairness, Merkley is a true ally, and HRC is proud to stand with him."

Before his death in 2009, Kennedy handed off leadership on the issue to Merkley.

The legislation is stalled in the Republican-controlled House, and President Barack Obama plans Monday to issue a more limited executive order barring such discrimination by federal contractors.

After the endorsement, Merkley issued a statement about the executive order:

"This executive order ending discrimination for federal contractors sends a clear message that unequal and unfair treatment of Americans on the job has no place in our society. No one should ever fear that their livelihood may be in jeopardy just because of who they are or whom they love.

“We still have more work ahead of us to ensure full equality for LGBT Americans, but this is a huge step forward. I applaud the President for affirming the principle that all Americans deserve to be treated fairly and equally.”

The HRC gala is scheduled Saturday at Lewis & Clark College.

Merkley is seeking a second term against Republican Monica Wehby of Portland.

While speaker of the Oregon House in 2007, Merkley advanced passage of a similar state nondiscrimination bill and expanded domestic-partnership rights for same-sex couples.

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Adds statement from Sen. Merkley about president's executive order planned for Monday.

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