Senate Passes Employment Non-Discrimination Act; Now Will Go to House

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announces a last-minute deal to avert a historic lapse in the government's borrowing ability, in this still image taken from video from the floor of the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington October 16, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/U.S. Senate TV/Handout)

In a move hailed by LGBT rights groups, the United States Senate has passed the 2013 version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The Senate voted on Thursday 64 to 32 in favor of passing the legislation, which if enacted would bar workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Tico Almeida, founder and president of the pro-gay organization Freedom to Work, said in a statement that the vote was a "historic step."

"The Senate has taken a bi-partisan and historic step towards ensuring that gay and transgender Americans have the same workplace protections that give all Americans a fair shot to succeed on the job," said Almeida.

"Our fight now moves to the House of Representatives where Speaker Boehner and the Republican Conference will have to decide which side of history they want to stand on. We will work with our Republican allies to push Speaker Boehner to allow this vote for the good of the country and the good of his party."

Since the 1970s, lawmakers have introduced some version of ENDA on behalf of expanding anti-discrimination employment protections to include LGBT individuals.

Efforts have yet to be successful, with the proposed bills having either never been brought to a vote or, as was the case in 1996, was voted down.

For a time, ENDA also met resistance from LGBT activists who argued that the bill did little to protect all sexual minorities and gender expressions as opposed to just gays and lesbians.

Known as Senate Bill 815, ENDA was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon in April and had 56 cosponsors. On Monday, the Senate voted 61 to 30 to bring ENDA to the floor for a vote.  During the debate Thursday morning, Sen. Pat Toomey proposed an amendment to expand the religious exemptions offered in S. 815. However, the amendment was voted down with 43 ayes to 55 nays.

Opponents of ENDA maintain that the bill does not do enough to protect religious liberty, especially for employers who may hold moral objections to homosexuality and/or transgender identity.

Emily Hardman, spokesperson for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, provided The Christian Post with a statement earlier this week regarding what the organization believed about ENDA's religious exemption.

"The Becket Fund is concerned about any law that does not provide robust religious liberty protections where they are warranted," reads the official statement.  "The limited exemptions for certain religious organizations that we have seen in the ENDA draft under consideration are manifestly inadequate."

ENDA will next go to the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives, where House Speaker John Boehner has expressed opposition to S.815.

"The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel in an earlier statement to Politico.

The Christian Post