Seven Republicans joined 54 Democrats in the Senate recently, passing a procedural vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The votes came from Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).
Senators Collins and Kirk took the opportunity to testify in favor of the bill. For Kirk, it was his first speech on the Senate floor since his stroke in 2012. "I have been silent for the past two years," said Kirk, "I have risen to speak because I believe so passionately in enacting the ENDA statute."
He then highlighted the bipartisan appeal of the bill and cited previous examples of Republicans standing up for equality: "I think it's particularly appropriate for an Illinois Republican to speak on behalf of this measure, in the tradition of Everett McKinley Dirksen and Abraham Lincoln—men who gave us the 1964 Civil rights Act and the 13 Amendment to the Constitution."
When Sen. Collins took the floor, she expressed being "dismayed that so many years have gone by—more than a decade—and this bill has not become law…It is time for us to enact this important legislation."
ENDA has existed in various forms for many years, but has yet to be put into law. The version that is currently up for debate is LGBT inclusive, as it would protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender identity. This would prevent employers from firing, refusing to hire, or declining to promote people simply because they're LGBT by making such bias a federal offense. At present, a person can be fired in 29 states because of one's orientation and in 33 states because of one's gender identity.
According to the Washington Post, more than 70% of the American public would like to see ENDA become law. As the Senate prepares for its final vote and in anticipation of the House of Representatives casting their votes, the wants and needs of their constituents seems clearly represented in the poll numbers that favor equality.
The first ever openly gay member of the Senate, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) applauded the politicians who would vote in favor of ENDA. She told her fellow Senators, "I have a deep respect for those who stand on the side of progress for our country this week. So for those that stand up this week and answer the call for courage, I can say with confidence, your courage will be respected and remembered when the history of this struggle is written."
Is your Senator against workplace discrimination? Check out the complete chart of those who do not support the protection of LGBT employees and share this story to thank the bipartisan group of Senators who are working towards equality for employees.