by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
In a vote that can only be described as historic, the U.S. Senate passed ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, on November 7. Sixty-four senators voted yes, with only 32 voting no.
Earlier in the day, the Senate voted 64-34 to end debate, breaking a Republican filibuster. Ten Republicans joined 54 Democrats to move the measure to the floor.
Both of Washington's U.S. senators were vocal supporters of the measure, and they celebrated its passage in statements issued shortly after the bill passed.
'For 19 years, we have been working toward this historic moment, and with today's vote in the Senate, we're one step closer to making ENDA the law of the land. This crucial bill would ensure that all Americans have the same opportunities to work hard and succeed, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,' said Senator Patty Murray.
EQUAL PROTECTION FOR ALL
'In many states, including my home state of Washington, we already have strong laws to protect the rights of our LGBT friends, neighbors, and family members, but we can't stop working until Americans in all 50 states are free from discrimination in the workplace. State lines shouldn't determine whether someone can be fired from their job simply because of who they are, so it's now up to Speaker Boehner and House Republicans to do the right thing and bring this landmark civil rights legislation up for a vote.'
Murray was an original co-sponsor of ENDA when it was first introduced in the Senate in 1994. Washington's other senator, Maria Cantwell, co-sponsored similar legislation that year as a House member, and signed on to the Senate version when she was elected to that chamber.
'This is a historic day on the long road towards equality in the workplace,' Cantwell said. 'For the first time, the United States Senate has passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect all employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. I have been proud to co-sponsor this bill since 1994. Washington state is a national leader in non-discrimination policies. It's time for the rest of the country to catch up.
'Today, we are one step closer to ensuring that all Americans are judged on the job that they do, not their sexual orientation. I urge the U.S. House to move forward and pass this bill.'
TED KENNEDY'S LEGACY
The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) first introduced ENDA in the Senate. Before he died of brain cancer in 2009, Kennedy personally asked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to take over as prime sponsor of the measure.
'Today's vote was a historic vote for equality and freedom,' Merkley said in a statement after the vote. 'Deeply embedded in the Constitution are notions of freedom and liberty, and discrimination is the antithesis of those founding values. Everyone should have the right to work hard and earn a living. No one should be fired for who they are or who they love. The Senate said today in a strong bipartisan voice that discrimination is just plain wrong. We are one step closer to equality for our LGBT friends and family.'
ENDA also enjoyed the full support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a co-sponsor of the bill since 1997.
'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,' Reid (D-NV) said during the floor debate, adding that many Americans are under the impression that ENDA is already federal law.
'Well it isn't already the law,' Reid added, 'but that is what they feel. Let's do what the American people think already exists.'
As promised, Reid brought ENDA to the floor on November 4. At that time the Senate voted 61-32 to allow debate on the measure.
The November 4 vote was not without last-minute drama. Reid had lined up all 55 Democratic senators to vote to advance the bill, and thought he could count on the support of five Republicans to reach the magic number of 60 votes necessary to bring the measure to the floor under Senate rules.
However, as time for the vote approached, two senators - Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Barbara Mikulski of Alaska - were stuck on airplanes and unable to make it to the capitol.
Republican supporters of the measure frantically lobbied their colleagues to line up additional votes. In the end, McCaskill and Mikulski missed the vote, but Republicans Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, Mark Kirk, Rob Portman, and Pat Toomey voted with Democrats and ENDA was put on the Senate's agenda.
'I realize that for some, this is not an easy vote,' the Senate's only openly Lesbian member, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), said on November 4.
'I understand that for some, they may believe that it's not good politics. But I want to say that I have a deep respect for those who choose to stand on the side of progress for our country this week. So for those that stand up this week and answer the call for courage, I can say with confidence your courage will be respected and remembered when the history of this struggle is written.'
On November 6, by unanimous voice vote, the Senate accepted an amendment by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) extending the bill's religious exemption. Merkley accepted Portman's proposal after HRC, ACLU, and Freedom to Work issued a statement saying the amendment was 'unnecessary' but declining to oppose it. The amendment would prohibit federal, state, and local governments from retaliating against religious groups that are exempt from the law.
Another amendment, proposed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), allowing the religious exemption to cover institutions engaged in secular activities, was opposed by LGBT groups and was voted down by the Senate.
A 'poison pill' amendment floated by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Tea Party darling Rand Paul (R-KY) to add so-called 'right-to-work' legislation to ENDA never came to the floor.
IT'S BOEHNER'S MOVE
ENDA now goes to the House, where Speaker John Boehner has already said he opposes it and will not bring it to the floor for debate. Sen. Murray announced that she would hold a press conference in Seattle on November 8 to call on Boehner to allow debate on the measure.
Majority Leader Reid said on November 6 that Republicans would probably be forced to change their minds and allow ENDA to come up for a vote. He predicted the bill would pass in the House as well.
'I think the House is going to have to capitulate,' Reid said, 'if they have any hope of having a president that can be a viable candidate or they think they can elect some Republicans and they want to hang onto the House.'
In a statement immediately following the November 7 vote, President Obama also called on the House to take up the bill.
'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,' he said. 'Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it. I urge the House Republican leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote and send it to my desk so I can sign it into law.'
SMITH CALLS FOR VOTE
Seattle-area U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-9) also issued a statement calling on Republican leaders to bring ENDA to a vote in the House.
'I am very happy to see the Senate pass ENDA,' Smith said. 'Currently, it remains legal in 29 states to fire or refuse to hire based on sexual orientation, and 38 states based on gender identity. This is wrong. This legislation does not create special rights, as some claim. ENDA simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the current list of federal employment protections that already ban discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.
'The American public, several organizations, and many members of Congress have widely embraced and endorsed ENDA's goal of nondiscrimination. It is now House leadership's turn to allow a vote on an all-inclusive ENDA that provides equality for all LGBT people. As a co-sponsor of ENDA, I'll continue to work with my colleagues and my constituents in Washington state to push for LGBT equality in the workplace.'
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