Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced Monday that the U.S. Senate will soon vote on legislation that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) has been proposed in every Congress since 1994. If passed, it would be the most significant piece of gay rights legislation since Congress repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2010.
The bill, like all Senate legislation, will require a cloture vote of 60 votes before it can pass. With recent endorsements from both Democrats and Republicans, ENDA might very well get the votes it needs.
Of the 53 Democrats in the Senate, all but one have announced their support for the bill. Additionally, several Republicans will be voting “yes,” including cosponsors Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), along with Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The remaining votes necessary for the bill to pass could come from previous LGBT supporters Pat Toomey (R-PA), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
Many Republican Senators have reservations about the ENDA legislation, including John McCain (R-AZ). Despite pressure from his wife, McCain worries whether the bill “imposes quota, whether it has reverse discrimination, whether it has the kinds of provisions that really preserve equal rights for all citizens or, like for example, busing. Busing was done in the name of equality. Busing was a failure. Quotes were a failure. A lot of people thought they were solutions. They weren’t. They bred problems.”
ENDA, however, does not establish quotas or reverse discrimination. Federal law already makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age and disability; sexual orientation and gender identity would simply be added to this list.
While it is not likely that ENDA will pass the Republican-controlled House and go on to become law, its passage in the Senate would still be important. Since it was first introduced 20 years ago, ENDA has never passed in the full Senate, having died there in 1996, in 2001, and in 2007 after passing the House.