WASHINGTON — The Senate pushed a major anti-bias gay rights bill past a first, big hurdle Monday, a clear sign of Americans’ greater acceptance of homosexuality nearly two decades after the law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
The vote of 61-30 essentially ensured that the Senate has the votes to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Final passage, possibly by week’s end, would cap a 17-year quest to secure Senate support for a similar discrimination measure that failed by one vote in 1996, the same year Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act.
Reflecting the nation’s shifting views toward gay rights and the fast-changing political dynamic, seven Senate Republicans joined with 54 Democrats to vote to move ahead on the legislation.
“Rights are sometimes intangible but, boy if you’ve ever been discriminated against, seeking employment or seeking an advancement, it’s bitter,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the only openly gay member of the Senate, said after the vote. “And it’s been a long, long fight, but I think its day has come. And that’s just very exciting to witness.”
The legislation would be the first significant gay rights legislation since Congress ended the ban on gays serving openly in the military in December 2010. The Supreme Court in June affirmed gay marriage and granted federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples while same-sex marriage is legal in 14 states and the District of Columbia.