Hurdle Cleared

Gay Rights Bill Advances in Senate

A bill to prohibit workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians cleared an important procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Monday.

By a 61-30 vote, the Senate voted for cloture Monday evening on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. The bill, which prohibits workplace discrimination against gay and lesbians, received support from every Democrat present, as well as seven Republicans. It is expected to pass the Senate this week after amendments are added to expand the exception for religious organizations.

Although more than 60 senators had pledged their support to end debate and move forward with the bill, there was some suspense over the final result. A number of senators, including two pledged to support the bill, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), were unable to make it back to Washington for the vote. As a result, the votes in favor remained perilously perched at 59, just one shy of the 60-vote margin needed to achieve cloture, as Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went into the Republican cloakroom to coax support from two wavering Republicans, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Eventually, both Portman, who already supports same-sex marriage, and Toomey came around, allowing ENDA to clear the crucial proceedural hurdle. Afterward, on Twitter, Portman’s openly gay son wrote, “Go Dad.”

Presuming ENDA reaches final passage in the Senate, it still must be approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner has already announced his opposition. Advocates remain cautiously optimistic, however, noting that ENDA is supported by roughly three in four Americans.