GAY or lesbian teachers in fear of losing their job because of their sexuality are to be protected, under proposed new legislation.
The Bill calling for a change in employment equality laws to help stamp out discrimination in the workplace was published today.
A group of Labour TDs and senators hope the planned new laws will prevent the dismissal of teachers or health staff whose life choices are seen as undermining the religious ethos of where they work.
Aodhan O Riordain said it will see the law finally catch up with public opinion.
"As a teacher and former principal this is an issue I feel passionate about. I worked with colleagues who could have lost their jobs simply for being gay or not being married," the Dublin North Central TD said.
"These people were my friends and some of the best teachers I ever knew."
The proposed employment equality amendment would put an end to staff in educational or medical institutions being discriminated against for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
It would also deliver protection to workers who have children outside marriage or who are divorced, according to the parliamentarians.
Senator Ivana Bacik will propose the party's Bill in the Seanad on March 13.
Labour TD Dominic Hannigan, who is also involved with the new Bill, said it would bring the country one step closer to full equality.
"The climate of fear which the original Employment Equality Act has created, is one which this Bill will bring to an end," he said.
TDs Ciara Conway and John Lyons were also involved with its drafting.
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) welcomed the proposed legislation, saying no-one should be in jeopardy of losing their job because of their identity or status.
Sandra Irwin-Gowran, director of education policy at Glen, said existing laws - under section 37.1 of the Act which Labour is hoping to amend - had created a "chill factor".
The section allows certain religious institutions to dismiss an employee if their values are deemed contrary to those of the establishment.
"It has meant that employees or prospective employees, whose lives may possibly be interpreted to be contrary to the religious ethos of some religions, have lived in fear for their jobs and their prospects within their employment," Ms Irwin-Gowran said.
"This 'chill factor' must be removed."
The new Bill aims to ensure that people who are applying for jobs or seeking promotion in certain institutions are not denied them due to their sexual orientation, civil or marital status, or family status.
Fianna Fail Seanad education spokeswoman Averil Power welcomed the proposed changes, but warned the Bill does not go far enough in out-rightly banning discrimination.
She said: "Instead of banning discrimination, it includes a specific clause under which employers may claim that taking action against a gay employee is 'justified by a legitimate aim'."
The senator said she looked forward to debating the issue.