The Senate voted 61-30 on Monday to begin debate on legislation that would create workplace protections for gay and transgender people in all 50 states.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) received the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, and will now have to move through a series of procedural hurdles before final Senate passage, which is expected later this week.
Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to advance the bill: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSwing-state Republicans play up efforts for gun control laws Reid knocks GOP on gun 'terror loophole' after attacks GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (Maine), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteSenate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown Ryan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate Dems gain upper hand on budget MORE (N.H.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanGrassley accuses Reid of 'pure unfiltered partisanship' Senate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown Ryan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate MORE (Ohio), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Dean HellerDean HellerFunding bill rejected as shutdown nears Senate lays groundwork for spending deal GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (Nev.), Mark KirkMark KirkFormer Miss Universe becomes surprise story to emerge from debate Senate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence MORE (Ill.) and Orrin HatchOrrin HatchSenators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override Internet companies dominate tech lobbying Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners MORE (Utah).
Another GOP supporter of ENDA, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Obama integrates climate change into national security planning GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Overnight Energy: Lawmakers kick off energy bill talks MORE (Alaska), was not present for the vote.
The bill, S. 815, would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Democrats and gay rights groups say ENDA is needed because not every state has approved such protections.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would enforce the new workplace rules.
The White House said President Obama “welcomes the Senate’s bipartisan first step” toward passage of the bill.
“[Obama] thanks the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have stood up for America’s core values of fairness and equality,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a statement.
Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinDem senator: Dean's speculation about Trump cocaine use not 'useful' EpiPen investigation shows need for greater pricing transparency, other reforms Overnight Defense: US attempted hostage rescue in Afghanistan | Defense hawks brace for spending fight | Trump slams 'lies' about Iraq war stance MORE (D-Wis.), the first openly gay U.S. senator, said the vote was about “freedom, fairness and opportunity” and said Republicans who support the bill would be remembered for their “courage.”
ENDA, which was first proposed in 1994, passed the House in 2007 but has never passed the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidCongress departs for recess until after Election Day How Congress averted a shutdown Congress steamrolls Obama's veto MORE (D-Nev.) said a federal law is needed “to ensure all Americans, no matter where they are, will not be afraid to go to work.”
But even if the bill passes the Senate, as expected, it appears to be going nowhere in the Republican House.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn Boehner3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (R-Ohio) on Monday said he is opposed to ENDA because it could open businesses up to lawsuits.
“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” said BoehnerJohn Boehner3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE spokesman Michael Steel.
Boehner's office also said the Speaker believes current law already prohibits employers from firing their workers because of their sexual orientation.
Conservative groups, such as Heritage Action, have urged members of Congress to block ENDA, warning it would undercut First Amendment freedoms.
“The legislation would severely undermine civil liberties, increase government interference in the labor market, and trample on religious liberty,” Heritage Action said in a statement.
Democrats have included language in the bill that would exempt military and religious organizations from complying with the nondiscrimination measure.
GOP senators on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee said they are worried about how the bill would be applied to schools. They produced a report that warned ENDA’s language is "too vague for employers to understand."
"S. 815 would force employers to ignore and silence the concerns of fellow employees, customers, and other users of their facilities," the GOP senators wrote. "The repercussions of disregarding such concerns could be devastating to an employer."
Obama has backed the legislation, saying it is “offensive” and “wrong” that some states allow individuals to be fired based on their sexual orientation.
HELP Committee Chairman Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (D-Iowa) noted that 17 states already have laws against employment discrimination for the LGBT community and said those rules should apply nationwide.
“A vast majority believe everyone has the right to earn a living wage without discrimination,” Harkin said. “This is another step in the direction of opening America up and making our society more inclusive rather than exclusive.”
Harkin said he hoped senators would file only amendments that are germane to the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMichigan Dems highlight Flint with unanimous opposition to CR Congress departs for recess until after Election Day How Congress averted a shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulLawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (R-Ky.) have introduced a national right-to-work amendment to ENDA.
Their amendment, which likely will be blocked by Senate Democrats, aims to prohibit labor unions from forcing some employees to pay union dues. Nearly half of the states have right-to-work laws on the books.
— This story was updated at 6:50 p.m.