A gay rights activist holds a sign outside the New Jersey Statehouse in June.
WASHINGTON - A bill to prohibit workplace discrimination against gays
and lesbians appears to have the votes to pass the Senate, but its
prospects in the House remain dim.
Today's scheduled procedural
vote in the Senate - which needs 60 of the 100 senators to move forward -
could clear the way for its first vote since 1996, when a similar bill failed in the Senate by a single vote.
"That was a dark day," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. He said the bill has finally reached a "critical mass" of Senators.
have the 60 votes, and I'm predicting Mr. President that we'll have
more than 60 votes," he said Monday on the floor of the Senate. "People
should understand this is a momentous day."
The last House effort to pass the bill passed, 235 to 184,
in a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2007. But House Speaker John
Boehner reaffirmed his long-standing opposition to the bill Monday,
making it unlikely the House would schedule a vote. "The Speaker
believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost
American jobs, especially small business jobs," said Boehner press
secretary Michael Steel.
Obama Administration urged Congress Monday to pass the Employment
Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would expand current civil rights
laws to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"Passage of this bill is long overdue," said a White House statement.
current bill passed a Senate committee in July on a bipartisan 15-7
vote. Republicans Orrin Hatch of Utah, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa
Murkowski of Alaska all voted for it in committee.
Collins, R-Maine, is a co-sponsor, and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. said
Monday he supports the bill because it "raises the federal standards to
match what we have come to expect in Nevada."
With at least five Republicans in favor, the bill can pass with the support of 53 Democrats and the two independents.
support is especially noteworthy. He voted against the proposal the
last time it came up for a vote in 1996, saying it would result in a
''The moral and religious sensibilities of
millions of Americans will be overridden by this legislation,'' Hatch
said in 1996, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But proponents won his support with a provision that would exempt
religious schools and organizations.
That exemption does not go
far enough for some social conservatives, however. Faith and Freedom
Coalition founder Ralph Reed says he opposes workplace discrimination.
"But this bill opens a Pandora's box of assaults on religious freedom,
litigation, and compliance costs for businesses and nonprofits that will
be a nightmare," he said.
Catholic bishops also oppose the bill.
"No one should be an object of scorn, hatred, or violence for any
reason, including his or her sexual inclinations," said a letter to the Senate from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But the bishops said the definition of "sexual orientation" was too
vague, could include other forms of sexual conduct, and would legitimize
A 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office
found "relatively few employment discrimination complaints based on
sexual orientation and gender identity" in 21 states and the District of
Columbia that have such laws.