In 1996 — the year the United States Senate passed the Defense of Marriage Act — the body also came within one vote of passing a bill to outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians. More than 16 years later, the tide has turned on marriage equality and DOMA’s federal definition of “marriage” is before the Supreme Court and could be gone by June. Despite widespread popular support, though, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — a job nondiscrimination bill for LGBT people modeled after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — remains in a holding pattern, unlikely to move forward in Congress because of House Republican leadership’s opposition to the measure. This year, the bill's new sponsors are pushing for a new vote in the Senate, and simultaneously pressing President Obama to take executive action barring discrimination on federal contacts, both sponsors said in interviews with BuzzFeed. Throughout much of the 16 years since ENDA failed in that Senate vote, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Barney Frank, both of Massachusetts, led the fight in Congress for the bill, which would ban most private employers from discrimination against LGBT employees. Come January, neither Kennedy, who died in 2009, nor Frank, who did not run for re-election, will be in Congress. Instead, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Jared Polis, both of whom took federal office in 2009, will be leading the fight for LGBT workplace protections.
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