Senate committee passes ENDA with Republican votes

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, votes for ENDA

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, votes for ENDA

Rapid movement continued on the gay rights front Wednesday as three moderate Republicans joined Democrats in a historic vote to approve a long-languishing workplace non-discrimination bill out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, was first introduced in Congress in 1994.

Three Republicans joined all Democrats on the 22- member committee, signaling a major political shift in support of gay rights following landmark marriage rulings by the Supreme Court just two weeks ago that struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and permitted same-sex marriage in California.

The surprise yes vote came from veteran Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, who was joined by Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who recently stated her support for same-sex marriage.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he expects the full Senate to consider the bill later this year. Republican committee support gives it a good shot at Senate passage. It still seems unlikely, however, that Republican leaders in the House will take it up given their uniformly hostile reaction to the Supreme Court rulings.

The Salt Lake Tribune said Hatch’s evolution on same-sex marriage “mirrors that of his faith.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supported a similar law passed by the Salt Lake City Council in 2009. And the faith’s lawyers have negotiated with gay leaders on a potential statewide non-discrimination ban, but have yet to strike an accord.”

As we told you here back in January, “The Mormon church, which heavily funded the Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California in 2008, quietly launched a website last month,, that while far from embracing homosexuality, urges compassion.”

Heather Cronk of gay rights group GetEQUAL put out a statement saying that although the group opposes the religious exemptions in the bill that drew Hatch’s support, “the cries from the millions of LGBT workers seeking workplace protections are thunderous. We are counting on leadership from Senators Nelson, Pryor, and Portman as we move forward, and we will continue to hold accountable those who attempt to set the clock backwards in our country and oppose this important piece of legislation, such as Senator Rubio.”

Find the current language and co-sponsors on the Library of Congress THOMAS site here.

Gay right advocate Chad Griffin, head the Human Rights Campaign, opened a barnstorming tour of the South following the Supreme Court decisions, going to North Carolina with next stops planned in Virginia and Mississippi.

Evan Wolfson, one of the earliest marriage supporters and a counsel on the Hawaii case that started it all, laid out a “Roadmap to Victory: Finishing the Job” that aims by 2016 to achieve:

“A majority of Americans living in a freedom to marry state.
“Public support at greater than 60%.
“An end to federal marriage discrimination through full repeal of DOMA and equal treatment of all marriages for all federal programs and purposes, throughout the country.”

Carolyn Lochhead