The Senate cleared its first procedural hurdle today on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation which would ban discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Senate voted this evening 61-30 in favor of invoking cloture on the motion to proceed to ENDA. One more procedural vote remains until the Senate can vote on final passage.
Seven Republicans -- Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Dean Heller, R-Nev., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. -- joined 54 Democrats in voting to advance the legislation.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was attending the funeral of former Rep. Ike Skelton and missed the vote. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also was expected to vote for the bill, but she missed the vote as well.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who is the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, said one of her missions in the Senate was to achieve equality in the workplace for all. "The citizens of Wisconsin made history electing our state's first woman to the United States Senate and electing the first out gay or lesbian person to the United States Senate in the history of our great nation," Baldwin said.
"But I didn't run to make history. I ran to make a difference, a difference that would give everyone a fair shot at achieving their dreams."
ENDA is the biggest piece of gay rights legislation considered by Congress since the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in 2010. It also comes less than five months after the Supreme Court bolstered same-sex marriage by declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and striking down the Proposition 8 ballot initiative, which defined marriage between one man and one woman. In 1996, the Senate failed to pass ENDA by one vote and the House of Representatives rejected it as well.
While it seems the workplace gay rights bill is coasting towards approval in the Senate, many see ENDA faltering once it reaches the House. House Speaker John Boehner reiterated his longstanding position against ENDA today.
"The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner said.
President Obama penned an op-ed today urging Congress to make the legislation "the law of the land."
"Millions of LGBT Americans go to work every day fearing that, without any warning, they could lose their jobs -- not because of anything they've done, but simply because of who they are," Obama wrote. "It's offensive. It's wrong. And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense."