Senate Nears Historic Vote on ENDA
WASHINGTON -- The Senate is headed for a historic vote on legislation outlawing workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, demonstrating the nation’s quickly evolving attitude toward gay rights nearly two decades after Congress rejected same-sex marriage.
All 55 members of the Democratic majority, including senators from the Deep South, and several Republicans were expected to unite on Thursday in backing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2008, signaled his conditional support on Wednesday.
Senate passage would be a major victory for gay rights advocates in a momentous year. The Supreme Court in June affirmed gay marriage and granted federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. In the heartland, Illinois is on the verge of becoming the 15th state to legalize gay marriage along with the District of Columbia.
The progress was tempered by the reality that the Republican-led House, where conservatives have a firm grip on the agenda, is unlikely to even vote on the bill. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, maintains his longstanding opposition to the measure, arguing that it is unnecessary and certain to create costly, frivolous lawsuits for businesses. Outside conservative groups have cast the bill as anti-family.
That didn’t stop proponents from stepping up the pressure on the eve of the vote.
"I hope that we are on the verge of making history tomorrow by passing this bill with a strong vote," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday. "I then hope that our colleagues on the House side will follow suit and that we can see this bill signed into law."
Through three days of Senate debate, backers of the bill repeatedly described it as an issue of fairness some 50 years after Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.
Not a single opponent stood on the Senate floor to speak out against the bill, a remarkable silence.
"It is well past time that we, as elected representatives, ensure that our laws protect against discrimination in the workplace for all individuals, that we ensure those some protections for those within the LGBT community," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who described the diversity in her state.