WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on Thursday, sending the matter to the House, which, according to reports, may choose not to bring the matter up for a vote.
The bill, introduced earlier this year by Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, seeks to protect homosexuals and those who prefer to identify as the opposite gender in the workplace, and bars employers from discriminating based on sexuality and gender identity.
While discrimination is illegal in over 20 states, the act states that its purpose is “to address the history and persistent, widespread pattern of discrimination, including unconstitutional discrimination, on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity by private sector employers and local, state, and federal government employers.”
“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” it outlines.
The act also prohibits employers from attempting to “limit, segregate, or classify the employees or applicants for employment of the employer in any way that would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment or otherwise adversely affect the status of the individual as an employee, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Thursday’s vote was preceded by a time of debate, which included opposition from those who believe that the measure is insufficient in regard to its protection of religious employers.
“I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion,” Republican Senator Dan Coats of Indiana declared.
The exception in the bill simply states that the “Act shall not apply to a corporation, association, educational institution or institution of learning, or society that is exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Democrats, however, took a moment to remember the late Ted Kennedy, who first brought ENDA to the floor in 1994.
“Senator Kennedy is looking down from heaven and smiling,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York commented.
Voting was mainly across party lines, with the exception of ten Republicans who supported the measure, including John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“Today’s vote was a historic vote for equality and freedom,” ENDA sponsor Jeff Merkley said in a statement after the vote. “Deeply embedded in the Constitution are notions of freedom and liberty, and discrimination is the antithesis of those founding values.”
But House Speaker John Boehner says that he is unlikely to bring ENDA up for a vote in the House, and therefore, the act will go no further.
“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told reporters.
“We have always believed this is covered by existing law,” an aide added to the Huffington Post. “[It is] not a new issue or a new position — it’s a longstanding position, and, frankly, not ‘news’ at all. This has been his position, on the record, for years, stated publicly many times.”
The final tally was 64-32.