Legislation that would protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination will reach the floor of the Senate before Thanksgiving, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Monday.
Appearing on the Senate floor Monday, Reid announced the Senate would take up consideration of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) during the four week working session that began today.
"We haven't taken this up for a number of years," the Nevada Democrat said, without setting an exact date for the bill's consideration. "We tried, it failed in the House of Representatives before, but we're going to take it up again."
ENDA, which would prohibit employers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, saw its first major movement in more than a decade on July 10 when the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee voted 15-7 to report the bill to the full Senate.
"I thank Majority Leader Reid for committing to bring ENDA to the floor this work period," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lead sponsor of ENDA in the Senate, in a statement to Metro Weekly. "Americans understand that it’s time to make sure our LGBT friends and family are treated fairly and have the same opportunities. Now it's time for our laws to catch up. People should be judged at work on their ability to do the job, period."
Now, with ENDA boasting 54 co-sponsors and growing Republican support after Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) joined Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) in voting for the bill in committee, advocates are focusing on driving the bill over the finish line and have expressed optimism following Reid's announcement.
"We're gratified that Senator Reid is bringing this important bill to the floor. Over the course of the past six months, we’ve worked hard to ensure that senators know their constituents support this bill," said Human Rights Campaign Vice President Fred Sainz.
HRC has been canvassing in states where the votes of senators are critical for ENDA’s passage. One of those states is Arizona, where Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain have been the focus of activists. As The Washington Post reported last week, Cindy McCain, wife of John McCain, signed an HRC postcard petitioning her husband to support ENDA.
ENDA is co-sponsored by every Senate Democrat except three — Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.).
"We're in the homestretch of securing the 60 votes necessary and remain optimistic that the support will be there when we need it," said Sainz.
Added Tico Almeida, president and founder of Freedom to Work, "We've spent months engaging with Republican Senators and their senior staff, and we're confident we'll have a winning vote of 60 or more Senators. We can defeat any attempted filibuster."
While advocates remain confident ENDA will secure the votes necessary for passage in the Senate, it will face a far tougher fight in the House. Nevertheless, President Obama backs the bill and has promised to sign it. White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated to reporters Monday the president's support and said the White House "wants every senator to support it."
"[ENDA] is something the president believes strongly is in the interest of the country to see turned into law," Carney said.
"Right now, we have the best chance ever to pass ENDA through one of the chambers, which is going to be an important step for us to getting ENDA passed when it's finally able to move in the House," said National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling. "Because of all the work people have done over the years at the grassroots level and on Capitol Hill, we're optimistic that the Senate vote will go our way. The forthcoming Senate vote will change the playing field once we have a friendlier House that can tackle ENDA."
[Image: Harry Reid on the Senate floor. Screenshot courtesy of C-SPAN.]