WASHINGTON -- The Senate gave its final approval Thursday to a bill that would offer historic new protections to gay and transgender individuals in the workplace, shifting the fight now to the Republican-led House.
“This is a really tremendous milestone, a day I will never forget in my service in the Senate,” said Sen.
Gay-rights advocates hailed the bipartisan vote and renewed their call for House Speaker
“This broad Senate coalition has sent a vital message that civil rights legislation should never be tied up by partisan political games,” said Chad Griffin, president of the
"We firmly believe that if the House of Representative were freed by Speaker John Boehner to vote its conscience, this bill could pass immediately," Griffin said. "It's unconscionable that any one person would stand in the way of this crucial piece of the civil rights puzzle."
The Senate bill would prohibit public and private employers, employment agencies and labor unions from using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for decisions about employment, promotion or compensation.
Federal law extends such protections based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia also protect sexual orientation; all but four of those include a similar protection for transgender individuals.
On Wednesday, senators approved an amendment offered by Republicans to strengthen an exception provided in the bill for religious organizations, and to ensure that the government could not retaliate against such groups in awarding contracts and grants. An additional amendment to further strengthen the exemption was offered Thursday before the vote, but was defeated.
The House in 2007, then controlled by Democrats, passed a version of ENDA that did not include the provision for transgender individuals. Thirty-five Republicans voted for it at the time, though only 10 continue to serve in the House today.
One of them, Rep.
"Congressman Ryan does not believe someone should be fired because of their sexual orientation. That said, any legislation to address this concern should be narrowly crafted to guard against unintended consequences," said Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert.
House Minority Leader
“Everyone talks about gridlock in Washington. It rests with one man: Speaker Boehner,” Sen.