Today the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Employment Committee, with a 15-7 vote, sent ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to the Senate floor for possible action later this year. The bill includes sexual orientation and gender identity, and had what Chris Geidner, at Buzzfeed, called “an unprecedented amount of Republican support.”
At the Washinton Blade, Chris Johnson writes:
All 12 Democrats on the committee, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), are co-sponsors of the bill as well as one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). They each voted in favor of ENDA during the final vote.
New support for ENDA also came from Republicans on the panel: (Sen. Orrin) Hatch (Utah) and (Sen. Lisa) Murkowksi (Alaska). The Alaska senator is the third sitting Republican U.S. senator to come out in favor of marriage equality.
According to Geidner, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who leads the committee
… discussed the fact that the bill — with only sexual orientation protections — was last passed by the committee in 2002, adding, ‘Today will be the first time we report to the Senate a bill that [includes] sexual orientation and gender identity.’
Johnson writes that Murkowski indicated her vote in support of ENDA was a result of receiving “1,774 postcards … from Alaskans … in support” of ENDA. Via Johnson, Hatch explained his vote this way:
‘I appreciate that the authors of the bill were willing to include a robust religious exemption in this bill. … I voted for it because it prohibits discrimination that should not occur in the workplace, it protects the rights of religious entities, and minimizes legal burdens on employers’
That exemption has been a point of, if not contention, then strong disagreements. As Johnson explains:
Some ENDA supporters, like the Center for American Progress, say ENDA’s religious exemption is politically necessary for the bill to pass Congress, while others, like the American Civil Liberties Union, say it allows for continued LGBT workplace discrimination. No action was taken on the religious exemption during the markup.
The inclusion of gender identity with sexual orientation has also been a contentious issue, with some from the gay and lesbian community – the Human Rights Campaign in particular – arguing back when ENDA was first written that including gender identity, and thus those who are transgender, was too controversial. A huge push-back from multiple LGBT organizations and individuals, demanding an “inclusive” ENDA. In short, that argument prevailed.
According to Geidner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated he “hopes to bring the bill to the floor for a vote ‘soon.’”
The House, of course, is a very different place, but the fact that congressional action has finally occurred on ENDA, after so many years, is seen as significant.
Finally, from Andrew Cray, at Think Progress,
Here are five data-driven reasons why there is record support — 53 Senate cosponsors — for passing ENDA:
1. LGBT workers face incredibly high rates of workplace discrimination. …
2. LGBT people and their families face economic insecurity because of employment discrimination. …
3. A majority of states do not prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers. …
4. 9 out of 10 Americans already believe ENDA is already federal law. …
5. There is overwhelming support from voters and business owners for LGBT-inclusive workplace protections. Polling by the Center for American Progress shows that 73 percent of the American public supports nondiscrimination protections for LGBT employees.