The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has passed its final vote in the full Senate 64-32, after lawmakers voted to begin the debate on Monday. The legislation now moves on to the House of Representatives.
ENDA makes it illegal to consider a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in questions of employment, including firing, hiring, and promotion. ENDA has been introduced at every Congress since 1994 except one, and similar legislation has been discussed at the federal level since 1974. “Gender identity” was added to the bill in 2007 in order to protect the rights of the transgender community.
This historic vote was comprised of 52 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and 2 Independents in favor of the legislation. Those Republicans include: John McCain (AZ), Jeff Flake (AZ), Dean Heller (NV), Orrin Hatch (UT), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Susan Collins (ME), Pat Toomey (PA), and Ron Kirk (IL) who was also the bill’s co-sponsor.
“Let the bells of freedom ring,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, who along with Kirk introduced the legislation earlier this year. “We have fought to capture that vision of equality, and liberty, and opportunity, and fairness embedded in our founding documents, in our founding vision. We’ve taken a huge stride today in that direction.”
Pennsylvanian Republican Pat Toomey introduced an amendment to the legislation that would have expanded the number of groups and individuals who could discriminate against LGBT people based on religious beliefs. However, the amendment failed by a vote of 43-55.
Toomey said he believed his amendment made an effort to relieve tension between “two vitally important American values”: equality and religious liberty. “I think the agreement is that religious institutions, including those engaging in some secular activities, should be exempt from engaging in activities that contradict their religious beliefs,” Toomey said on the Senate floor Thursday.
Many disagreed. “This amendment threatens to gut the central premise of ENDA,” said Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. “The amendment is ill-defined, and opens floodgates to all kinds of court cases.”
Toomey was among the Republicans to vote in favor of ENDA, despite his amendment being struck down.
The bill now moves on to the House, where many believe it faces an uphill battle. Some even believe that the Senate vote is nothing more than a symbolic win.
House Speaker John Boehner has been vocal about his opposition to the legislation. Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said in a statement that, “The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s spokesperson released a statement on Thursday, saying, “The bill is currently not scheduled in the House. I hope Majority Leader Reid soon addresses the dozens of House-passed bills that have been ignored in the Senate that create jobs, improve education and create opportunity while Americans struggle to find a good-paying job.”
Advocates are also wary of feeling too much hope for the future of ENDA.
“I dont believe that it’s going very far in the house,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL, in an email to msnbc. “It’s clear that Speaker Boehner has no intention of bringing it up.” But, she added, “it’s hugely helpful as far as public education goes, since 90% of Americans think this is already law.”
US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said, “The arc of the moral universe bent a little more toward justice today. Protecting the workplace rights of LGBT workers is a moral imperative that is long overdue. We still have a long road ahead of us, but today’s historic vote moves us one step closer to a nation that truly embodies its founding principles of equality, opportunity and fairness for all.”
President Obama, who has pushed for workplace protections for LGBT people, said in a statement on Thursday, “Just as no one in the United States can lose their job simply because of their race, gender, religion or a disability, no one should ever lose their job simply because of who they are or who they love.”