Senate reaches 60 votes for landmark anti-discrimination bill

ENDA protesters via Flickr

Republican Nevada Senator Dean Heller indicated his support for the anti-discrimination bill, ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) today, saying, "that supporting this legislation is the right thing to do." ENDA would make it illegal to discriminate against workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is already illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, nationality, gender, disability, age and religion.

The Senate is poised to vote on the measure this week, and Majority Leader Harry Reid is looking for 60 votes in favor to overcome any possible Republican filibuster. All Democratic senators support the bill, so Reid needs at least five Republicans to make the threshold. Two Republicans, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine, are co-sponsors of the bill; two other Republicans, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted for it in committee in July. So if Hatch and Murkowski continue their support that leaves one more Republican needed. Heller filled that need today.

The political pressure on Republicans to show their support for the bill is growing. According to an article in the Washington Post, there are majorities in all 50 states for a non-discrimination law that would protect LGBT workers. The authors said their state-by-state estimates show the lowest percentage is 63 in Mississippi to 81 in Massachusetts. Even in deep "red states," Republican senators' constituents clearly support an ENDA-like law. Others also point out that young voters across the political spectrum support LGBT equality issues and if the Republicans want to be relevant to these voters, they have to change their virulent anti-gay stances.

Speaker of the House John Boehner apparently doesn't care about the GOP being relevant to the younger generation and reflecting their constituents as he immediately announced - after Heller - that he does not support the bill. Analysts and activists both say that getting a vote out of the GOP-led House is unlikely, but not impossible. Some Republican House candidates may be looking for an issue like this to support if they are in a close race, as the tea party-led government shutdown continues to inflict damage on the party's 2014 races, observers say.

Today, President Obama wrote a blog on Huffington Post urging Congress to pass ENDA. Referring to "America's promise" that all are created equal and should be afforded equal opportunity no matter who you are, the president wrote, despite the gains against discrimination "right now, in 2013, in many states a person can be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender."

The president said it was "offensive" and "wrong" that "millions of LGBT Americans go to work every day fearing that, without any warning, they could lose their jobs -- not because of anything they've done, but simply because of who they are."

The AFL-CIO Now blog published "8 things you need to know about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act," a short list that helps cut through the anti-gay propaganda being spread through the media by the bill's opponents. ENDA does not provide "special rights" for LGBT workers, nor does it require employers to fill any quotas, "it merely levels the playing field and gives LGBT workers the same protections heterosexual workers have," the blog says. "ENDA also would protect heterosexual people from being fired because employers suspect they might be gay." To read the full list, go to: aflcio.org.

Photo: From a GetEqual ENDA protest via Flickr/MattyMatt/CC

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