Today, the U.S. Senate passed historic gay rights legislation to prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed 64-32 in a final vote on the Senate floor after an equally successful vote to end debate. The Senate also rejected a religious exemption amendment to ENDA from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)
This is the first time legislators have approved a bill to advance LGBT rights since abolishing the ban on gay men and lesbians in the military in 2010.
Unfortunately, ENDA now has a bleak future as it proceeds to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where it is not expected to pass.
Just before the final vote, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) openly railed against the gridlock in Congress. His remarks impugned the House of the Representatives for systematically failing to approve legislation passed in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made similar comments. In a statement released yesterday, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, urged Congress to move forward on ENDA. “At a time when Washington is spending so much of its time bickering over partisan issues,” she said, “Congress has an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans by passing this commonsense and overdue law.”
In the weeks leading up to today’s vote, there had been an organized grassroots effort to change minds in the Senate. Thousands of MoveOn.org members signed petitions urging both Democratic and GOP senators to support ENDA and vote to protect LGBT Americans from job discrimination and workplace harassment. Last week, only three undecided Democratic senators remained, all of whom ultimately pledged their support for the bill. All three had been targeted by MoveOn petitions. The organization then focused its efforts on Republican senators. On Monday, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) publicly declared his support for ENDA, marking the critical 60th vote to avoid a filibuster. After the Senate cloture vote on Monday, ENDA advanced to today’s final vote with strong bipartisan support.
So now what? Will petitions and other grassroots efforts change minds in the House of Representatives? We certainly hope so.
Despite ENDA’s uncertain fate at present, LGBT Americans can look to the future while rejoicing in the fact that history has been made today. The struggle for equal rights continues. We will keep up the fight.