Senate to hold final ENDA vote Thursday

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set up a final vote on a gay rights bill that aims to end workplace discrimination.

On Thursday, the Senate will vote on a GOP amendment to expand religious exemptions under the bill before voting to end debate on the measure. If Democrats get 60 votes to end debate, the Senate will then vote on final passage at 1:45 p.m.

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The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), S. 815, would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Earlier this week seven Republicans joined Democrats in a vote to begin debate on the bill, making final passage all but certain.

But it’s unlikely that the House will take up the measure. Earlier this week, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House GOP leader opposes the bill because it would increase “frivolous” lawsuits. But Democrats pointed out that nearly half of states already have this law on the books and haven’t seen a large increase in unwarranted lawsuits.

Democrats are hoping that if they get enough Republican support in the Senate, it would force the House to take up the measure.

Some Senate Republicans were worried about religious protections in the bill, which includes language exempting churches from the legislation.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved an amendment from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that would prevent government retaliation against religious organizations that don't hire someone because of sexual orientation or identity.

The Senate will vote on an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) Thursday that would extend that exemption to any employer that is partially owned or funded by a religion or has religious affiliations — including religious universities.

Gay rights organizations oppose Toomey’s amendment.

“We’re especially opposed to changes like Sen. Toomey’s amendment that could allow for-profit corporations to escape accountability by citing religion to unfairly terminate qualified gay and transgender employees,” said Tico Almeida, founder and president of Freedom to Work.

After the Senate finishes work on ENDA, it is expected to work on H.R. 3204, which establishes safety measures for compounded drugs.