The United States Senate voted 64-32 Thursday to pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. The bill, which has not been scheduled for any action in the House, protects employees from being discriminated against due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Ten Senate Republicans joined all the Democrats present in the White House-backed vote. The Republicans who voted for the bill are Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“The time has come for Congress to pass a federal law that ensures all citizens, regardless of where they live, can go to work not afraid of who they are,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor before the vote. Reid added that many Americans mistakenly believe the federal government already protects employees from discrimination based on their orientation or gender identity.
“Well, it isn’t already the law,” Reid said. “But that is what they feel. Let’s do what the American people think already exists.”
President Barack Obama immediately praised the bill’s passage on Twitter, saying that “now it's time for the House to take action to protect LGBT American workers from workplace discrimination.”
Soon before ENDA went to a vote, Toomey and Flake brought forward an amendment that would broaden exemptions for religious groups, but it failed to gain the necessary 60 votes. Toomey and Flake voted for the bill anyway. On Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to include an amendment exempting religiously affiliated employers from the bill.
This is the first time that the Employee Non-Discrimination Act has passed in the Senate. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., first introduced the bill in 1994 and championed it until his death in 2009. The bill came closest to passage in 2007, when it passed 235-184 in the Democrat-controlled House but failed in the Senate.
While ENDA has now passed the Senate, its future in the House is less certain. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, strongly opposes the measure and has implied that the bill may not even come up for a vote. A spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., stated after the Senate action that the bill “is currently not scheduled in the House."
In response to Boehner's and Cantor’s statements, Democratic Senate leaders have called on House Republicans to bring the bill up for a vote.
“Anyone who is a student of history knows that our history books are littered with those public figures who said that we just can’t end that discrimination based on race, we can’t end that discrimination based on age, based on disability, based on gender,” Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told Politico. “Think about their place in history today, and I won’t recount their names. Speaker Boehner: Think about the party you belong to.”
Eric Brown is an IBTimes reporter who eats far too much pizza. He is a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and currently resides in Brooklyn.