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A bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity advanced in the Senate Monday with the help of 7 Republican votes. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which already had the support of the entire Democratic caucus, was backed by GOPers Ayotte, Collins, Hatch, Heller, Kirk, Portman, and Toomey. The final 61-30 vote virtually guarantees passage later this week.
The White House said President Obama “welcomes the Senate’s bipartisan first step” towards passage of the bill.
“[Obama] thanks the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have stood up for America’s core values of fairness and equality,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a statement.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — the first openly gay U.S. senator — said the vote was about “freedom, fairness and opportunity” and said Republicans who support the bill would be remembered for their “courage.”
ENDA, which was first proposed in 1994, passed the House in 2007 but has never passed the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said a federal law is needed “to ensure all Americans, no matter where they are, will not be afraid to go to work.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) affirmed on Monday morning that he would oppose a law that would prohibit discrimination against gay and lesbian employees in the workplace, citing the possibility that it would put a financial burden on small businesses.
"The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
Boehner's office also said the Speaker believes current law already prohibits employers from firing their workers because of their sexual orientation. But in reality, there is no law protecting gay, lesbian and bisexual workers from being fired in 29 states, and transgender workers are unprotected in 33 states.
The bill would bar employers with 15 or more workers from using a person's sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for making employment decisions, including hiring, firing, compensation or promotion.
The bill would exempt religious institutions and the military.