Stephanie Condon, CBS News
With strong bipartisan support, the Senate on Thursday passed the
Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit
discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or
The final vote was 64 to 32, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the measure.
we've seen on the Senate floor today... is such a restatement of basic
American values of freedom, of fairness, and of opportunity," Sen. Tammy
Baldwin, D-Wis. -- the only openly gay member of the Senate -- said
before the final vote.
While the Democratic-led Senate
and gay rights supporters billed the moment as historic, the
legislation's prospects in the Republican-led House currently appear
dim. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, opposes the legislation and has
no plans to put it up for a vote.
"The Speaker believes
this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American
jobs, especially small business jobs," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel
Senate Democrats on Thursday challenged Boehner to put the bill up
for a vote, predicting that it would pass in the House with bipartisan
support. Boehner's concern about lawsuits is "easily disproved" in the
21 states that already bar discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said. And the law is necessary,
he added, to extend the ban to the 29 states where such discrimination
is still legal.
Gay rights advocates have said that
should the bill die in the House, President Obama to take executive
actions to protect gays and lesbians in the workplace. However, the
White House has said it prefers the matter to be handled legislatively
(even though Mr. Obama promised in 2008 that he would sign an executive order banning sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination by federal contractors).
The White House on Thursday commended the Senate for the vote and urged the House to pass the bill.
oppose this kind of legislation is to announce that you want to be left
behind by history," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "The
necessity of making sure that every American has equal rights is
fundamental to our history and to who we are, and that's what this
In a statement after the vote, Mr. Obama
said, "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. Now is the time to end this kind of
discrimination in the workplace, not enable it."
Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declined to say on Thursday whether he would
press the president to act unilaterally. He did say, however, that House
Republicans "better come to realize... there's more than one way to
skin a cat."
Some conservatives have said they oppose the
bill because its religious freedom exemptions are not strong enough,
though it does exempt religious institutions. The Senate earlier
Thursday voted down an amendment offered by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that
would have expanded which groups were exempted.
In spite of the opposition from House leadership, there are paths the
bill could take to pass in the Republican-led chamber. In one sign of
hope, ENDA supporters point to the Violence Against Women Act, which
stalled in the House for months because of conservative concerns.
However, Democrats and the bill's backers kept the pressure on
Republicans, and ultimately the bill passed in the House with bipartisan support. Alternatively, ENDA could pass like the hate crimes legislation that passed in 2009, which was attached to a must-pass defense spending bill.
supporters also point out that when the Democratic-led House voted on a
version of the bill in 2007, 35 Republicans joined 200 Democrats to
pass it. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., voted for ENDA and has since reiterated
his support for it.
conducted this fall by Republican pollster Alex Lundry and the
Americans for Workplace Opportunity campaign showed that more than
two-thirds of registered voters, including 56 percent of Republicans,
support the protections offered by ENDA. In fact eight out of 10 thought
that such federal workplace protections were already in place.