Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 13, 2016

Senate Passes Gay Employment Rights Bill

In 2010, activists were arrested for staging a sit-in designed to pressure Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Three years later, the Senate passed it. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In 2010, gay rights activists were arrested for staging a sit-in designed to pressure Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Three years later, the Senate passed it. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate on Thursday approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in a tempered win for gay rights advocates who still need a reluctant, GOP-controlled House to take up and pass the bill.

In a bipartisan vote, 64 senators supported the ENDA legislation, championed in the Senate by Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon. The bill, if it were to become law, would set a federal non-discrimination standard to ensure that private employers cannot fire employees based on their sexual orientation or identity.

Ten Republicans joined all Democrats to pass the gay rights bill, while 32 Republicans voted against the measure. Few opponents rose to speak against the bill, however. As of Wednesday evening, no one had risen to speak in opposition. Sen. Dan Coats was the first to do so on Thursday morning. He raised concerns about protections for religious institutions who believe same sex relationships are sinful.

Republicans voting for the bill included Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio and John McCain of Arizona.

This year has been a significant one for gay rights advocates, as the Supreme Court reversed the Defense of Marriage Act — meaning that a marriage certificate for a gay couple in one state must be recognized in all — and several more states have passed gay marriage measures.

The future prospects for ENDA, however, appear dim. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, opposes the bill, even as he faces some pressure to bring it to the floor. Meanwhile Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., the 2012 vice presidential nominee, has expressed an openness to supporting some non-discrimination legislation.

Currently, 21 states have such protections on the books. Religious organizations are exempt from the potential law in language similar to that found in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The best moments from the Senate’s ENDA debate can we viewed here.

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