For the first time in the legislation’s two-decade history, the Senate has passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The final vote was 64-32, adding the votes of Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to the many Republicans who helped the bill pass cloture earlier in the week. Earlier on Thursday, the Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), which would have drastically expanded religious exemptions in a way that would have allowed private businesses to continue discriminating against LGBT workers. It required 60 votes, but did not even receive a simple majority (43-55).
This may be the end of this chapter of ENDA’s long journey to passage. Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is optimistic that the bill could pass in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) opposes the bill and likely will not allow such a vote to occur. In the meantime, President Obama could sign an executive order that would at least protect the LGBT employees of federal contractors, but he has been unwilling to issue the “hypothetical” order.
For now, it remains true that people can be legally fired or refused employment for being gay in 29 states or for being transgender in 33 states.