Labor secretary calls ENDA vote ‘moral imperative’

Labor Secretary Tom Perez is cheering the Senate’s historic passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by invoking Martin Luther King Jr. 

“The arc of the moral universe bent a little more toward justice today,” he said in a statement after the bill passed the upper chamber on a 64-32 vote on Thursday.

“Protecting the workplace rights of LGBT workers is a moral imperative that is long overdue. We still have a long road ahead of us, but today’s historic vote moves us one step closer to a nation that truly embodies its founding principles of equality, opportunity and fairness for all.”

Ten Republicans joined Democrats in support of the legislation in the Senate.

The bill would set federal workplace protections for gay and transgender people by preventing their employers from considering their gender identity or sexual orientation in their hiring or firing.

Critics of the bill have said that it would expose businesses to lawsuits and threaten freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has opposed the bill, and said that current laws already protect LGBT workers. A spokesman said in a statement that the legislation would “increase frivolous litigation” and hurt small businesses.

Major business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federal of Independent Businesses have declined to take a stance on the legislation.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be tasked with enforcing the new workplace rules called for by the law. Religious organizations and companies with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt.

ENDA passed the House in 2007, when it was controlled by Democrats, but had never gotten through the Senate until Thursday.