The U.S. Senate has passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would ban workplace discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, by a 64-32 margin. Every Democrat voted for the bill, joined by 10 Republicans Thursday. The Senate voted down the same legislation in 2007, and so ENDA's bipartisan passage this year has undeniable historic significance; however, its chances of passing the House and becoming law don’t seem very great, as Speaker John Boehner has said that he won’t put it up for a vote.
The Republicans supporting the bill were Susan Collins, Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski, Dean Heller, Kelly Ayotte, Rob Portman, Jeff Flake, John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Pat Toomey. The only senator to speak in opposition of the bill was Dan Coats, who accused the legislation of failing to “stand up for our country’s longstanding right to the freedom of religion and speech.” An amendment offered by Toomey would have expanded the bill’s protections for religious employers — but that amendment was defeated.
The broad Republican support for the bill marks a relatively quick turnaround for the GOP — in particular, from Senator John McCain, who last week had voiced fantastical concerns that the bill would somehow result in busing and racial quotas. It wouldn’t, and McCain apparently realized this eventually, as he voted both to end debate on the bill and enshrine it in law.
Sadly, Boehner wasn’t convinced, with his spokesman erroneously claiming that the legislation “will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs.” Boehner has implied that he won’t put it up for a vote in the House, although some supporters of the bill hope the bill’s significant support amongst Senate Republicans might convince Boehner to change his mind.
And Senate Republicans aren’t the only ones on the right urging the House to pass ENDA. Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary to George W. Bush, penned an op-ed in Politico arguing that supporting ENDA is both the right thing to do and in Republicans’ political self-interest:
Allowing people to be successful in their workplaces is an essential piece of individual opportunity and liberty. Working for a living is one of America’s freedoms. It’s a virtue to be encouraged — and supporting it is important to the future of the Republican Party. In an era in which the government often punishes hard work and individual success, this bill encourages it.
Politically, it’s about time for the GOP to do the right thing while acting in a more inclusive and welcoming manner. Republicans need to expand our appeal and earn the support of millennials. The younger generation of Americans views gay rights differently than our parents’ generation, and as was noted in an assessment of the Republican Party I co-authored following the 2012 elections, issues like this are gateways into whether young people see the GOP as a party worthy of support.
This is coming from a guy who, ten years ago, worked for a president who based his reelection campaign on enacting a constitutional amendment banning on same-sex marriage. So yes, we’ve come a long way.
That being said, there’s still a long way to go. The right has not taken well to the passage of ENDA, with RedState blogger Daniel Horowitz referring to it as a bill “mandating the hiring of cross-dressers.” That’s both mean-spirited and obvious bullshit, which is par for the course for RedState, but the fact that anti-LGBT activists are resorting to such ridiculous hyperbole in order to smear the bill suggests that they know public opinion is moving against them.
At the same time, the fringe right still has enormous sway over the Republican Party, as was demonstrated during the government shutdown. At this point, all signs point to Boehner once again surrendering to the whims of his Tea Party overlords, so it’s probably going to be a while before ENDA becomes law. Sigh.