A bipartisan bill that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has passed a Senate Committee by a vote of 15 to 7.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA, received the support of all 12 Democrats and 3 Republicans on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
According to the Huffington Post, the committee spent just 10 minutes discussing the bill before voting it forward. The Committee Chairman, Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), said that the speed at which the bill passed the committee reflected the amount of bipartisan work that went into crafting it, and said that he hoped the full Senate would take up the bill in the fall.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of the Republicans who supported the bill, told the Huffington Post that she is “a strong believer that individuals should be judged on whether they can do the job, not their sexual orientation.” She add that the Senate floor could very well amend the bill, but stressed that “discrimination should never be tolerated in the workplace.”
Federal anti-discrimination laws currently in place ban employers from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability, but there are no provisions for LGBT people. ENDA, if passed, would extend protection to LGBT employees in 33 states that don’t already explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Workers in those states can be fired, demoted, denied a promotion or harassed simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Qualified workers should not be turned away or have to fear losing their livelihood for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications, skills or performance,” Sen. Harkin said. “Let’s not mince words: such practices are un-American. They should have no place in any American workplace.”
Other supporters of the bill indicated that it could help remove the dark cloud of potential discrimination a lot of perfectly good, qualified LGBT workers live with day to day.
ENDA has been introduced in several other congressional sessions and has gotten some hearings, but hasn’t had a vote on the House or Senate floor since November 2007, when it passed the House by 235-184. The bill was introduced in this Congress by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate.
ENDA has been floundering in Congress for several years. Several congressional sessions have discussed the bill and it received some hearings, but it hasn’t had a vote on the Senate floor since November 2007.