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UTAH SENATORS SHUN PLEDGE AGAINST BIAS

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A national gay and lesbian rights group said this week it obtained pledges from 71 of 100 senators that they would not discriminate against homosexuals in their hiring practices.

Utah's two senators were not among them.But Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said they do not discriminate against gays - but simply generally do not respond to requests for pledges, which were made this time by the Human Rights Campaign Fund.

"My hiring choices are based on capability and experience, and I do not feel it necessary to sign extraneous petitions or statements that merely reiterate this policy," Bennett said.

He added, "It is the policy of my office not to discriminate in our hiring practices on any basis other than locality and political ideology - we like to hire Utahns and we like to hire Republicans."

Paul Smith, press secretary to Hatch, said, "We don't have a policy on gays. When a person comes in, we don't ask them about it. We take them based on their job profile and what they can do, not their sexual preference. It just doesn't come up."

He added that Hatch's office generally also does not respond to requests for such pledges either.

Tim McFeeley, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, said it sought the pledges after three Oklahoma members responded to a newspaper survey last year saying they would refuse to hire people they knew were gay.

McFeeley said, "Throughout the country, hard-working Americans are fired from their jobs, harassed in the workplace and refused employment, not because of the quality of their work but because of someone else's prejudice."

He added that the 71 senators who provided pledges "don't usually agree on much. They are Republicans and Democrats. . . ."