ENDA is Up For Review and Could Expand LGBT Rights

There’s more dynamic news on the LGBT front, and this time it’s about workplace discrimination.

On Wednesday morning, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in a 15-7 vote. Led by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the committee’s vote reflects the first Senate progress on the bill in over a decade.

Passage of ENDA would prohibit employers from discrimination in the workplace based on gender identity or sexual orientation. There’s a long history behind the bill. In one form or another, an equal-employment act has been in the works since 1974. And after its origin, there have been versions of the bill in the 110th, 111th, 112th, and now 113th Congress. A version was last passed in 2002, but only included some sexual orientation protections. Currently, federal law prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, and national origin. This broader measure would expand protections to include transgender people. It’s a legislative revamp, and that means movement. 

What’s more, the bill is likely to pass in the Senate. With support from all the Democrats and three Republicans in committee, ENDA has a good chance of getting through the Senate body.  For that reason Harkin hopes to bring the bill to the floor rather soon, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expecting the full Senate to proceed on the bill later this year. Sixty votes would overcome the threat of a GOP filibuster. Whether or not the bill will come to a vote in the GOP-led House is still up in the air.

The measure is expected to garner Republican opposition. Yet, what has been particularly interesting to watch is the voicing of such opposition, especially on the part of the committee Republicans, or — more accurately — the lack of it. After all, while seven GOP senators did vote against the measure, none of the Republican members on the panel spoke against the bill. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) even yielded his time.

The silence on the right seems to be an indication of the changing tide when it comes to LGBT liberties. It’s becoming more and more taboo to speak openly against gay rights than for them.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to the committee vote in a statement, encouraging the House “to move forward on this bill that upholds America’s core values of fairness and equality.”

Additionally, Senator Harkin stated, “I think society is there, and things that have happened in the Supreme Court show we’re ready to move on in a way we haven’t move on in the past.”

And it’s about time.