By C.N. Staff Writer
The United States Senate has approved legislation that would outlaw workplace discrimination against homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender Americans. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed in a 64-32 vote, where fifty-four members of the Democratic majority and 10 Republicans agreed on the first major gay rights bill since Congress repealed the ban on gays in the military three years ago.
“It is time for Congress to pass a federal law that ensures all our citizens – regardless of where they live – can go to work unafraid to be who they are,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. This legislation comes days after Illinois became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Just four months ago the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned federal recognition of legally married gay couples. However, the bill still has to go to the Republican-controlled House floor before it becomes law.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH.) has maintained his longstanding opposition to the measure, arguing that it is unnecessary and certain to create costly, frivolous lawsuits for businesses. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said there are no plans for the House to take up the legislation. “The bill is currently not scheduled in the House,” said spokesman Rory Cooper.
In June the Supreme Court affirmed gay marriage and granted federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The first openly gay senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, called the vote a “tremendous milestone” that she will always remember throughout her time in the Senate. President Obama weighed in on the vote saying, “One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do,” Obama said in a statement. “Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it.”
Supporters like Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she supports the bill and how it will affect the diversity of her state. “It is well past time that we, as elected representatives, ensure that our laws protect against discrimination in the workplace for all individuals, that we ensure some protections for those within the LGBT community.” Her support underscored the generational shift. Seventeen years ago, when a bill dealing with discrimination based on sexual orientation failed by one vote in the Senate, the senator’s father, Frank, voted against it. That was the same year that Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act.
The Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania that would have expanded the number of groups that are covered under the religious exemption. Opponents argued that it would undermine the core bill.
If the House fails to act on the bill, gay rights advocates are likely to press President Barack Obama to act unilaterally and issue an executive order barring anti-gay workplace discrimination by federal contractors.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights group, is bullish. “While many are already beginning to wave the white flag on passage of ENDA in the House,” says executive director Gregory Angelo, “Log Cabin Republicans has an optimistic view having recently met with nearly 50 House Republicans making the case that no one should be fired simply because they’re gay.” He adds:
Undoubtedly, the Republican Party is going through a cultural shift as more Republican legislators consistently step up for LGBT Americans. LCR believes this momentum already existing in the Party will help propel this bill to the House floor. Once there, we’re confident it will pass. We encourage GOP House leadership of the 113th Congress to allow a conscience vote on ENDA and make history once again.
GOP pollster Alex Lundry for Project Right side reports that among Republicans, 56 percent nationwide supported the law, while only 32 percent opposed it. Additional statewide polling conducted by conservative pollster Jan van Lohuizen in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire confirmed those findings.