Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada listens to a reporter's question about their meeting with Senate Republicans regarding the government shutdown and debt ceiling on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.
Charles Dharapak/AP

Senate puts gay rights on the agenda


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is bringing up a bill that would protect workers from discrimination based on their sexual orienation or gender identity.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, better known as ENDA, first introduced in 1994, almost passed in 1996, but has not been voted on by the full Senate since then. 

“We tried, it failed in the House of Representatives before, but we’re going to take it up here again,” Reid said in a floor speech on Monday. He said it would face a vote before the Thanksgiving holiday. 

President Obama has long supported the measure, calling on Congress to pass it as recently as June in a speech marking Gay Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. 

“We need to get that passed,” the president said at the time. “I want to sign that bill. We need to get it done now.”

The latest Senate incarnation of the bill, introduced by Senator Jeff Merkeley, an Oregon Democrat, passed in committee earlier this year on a 15-7 vote, and has 54 cosponsors, including Republican Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine. Republicans Orrin Hatch and Lisa Murkowski voted for it in committee. Another Republican Senator, Rob Portman of Ohio, came out for gay marriage earlier this year and suggested in May he might be won over with the right legislative language. On the Democratic side, Senators Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor, and Bill Nelson, have yet to sign onto the bill. 

If the bill reaches the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected filibuster, however, it will face a more difficult stuation in the Republican-controlled House. Speaker John Boehner has shown little interest in the measure, suggesting last year there were “ample laws” in place already to protect workers. 

The bill could pose political troubles for the party, however. While the GOP used to employ gay rights as a wedge issue against Democrats, increasingly they’ve been on the defensive over the issue as polls show the public rapidly shifting towards a more tolerant position. A report by the Republican National Committee after the 2012 election warned that the party was alienating voters with its uncompromising position on gay issues.

“Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays – and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be,” the report read. 

Senate puts gay rights on the agenda