WASHINGTON — With a nod to supporters of gay rights — and without one to many traditional religious groups — Colorado’s two senators voted for a bill to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and opposed an amendment that would have given legal protections to religious organizations.
“Today’s historic vote reaffirms that when we say liberty and justice for all, we include all of our citizens. Everyone has a right to earn a living and provide for their families,” Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, wrote via a spokesman.
“This bipartisan, common-sense policy follows the lead of Colorado and successful businesses nationwide,” Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, said in a press release.
Bennet and Udall each cast an “yea” vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and a “nay” vote for an amendment offered by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have exempted social-service oriented religious organizations from provisions of the bill.
The Senate voted 64-32 for ENDA. All 52 Democrats, two Independents who caucus with Democrats, and ten Republicans cast “yea” votes for S. 815. Thirty-two Republicans voted against the measure.
Toomey’s amendment failed 43-55. Only Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas crossed the aisle to vote for the measure. Only Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined the Democrats in opposing the amendment.
ENDA does contain exceptions for some religious individuals and organizations — ministers, houses of worship, and groups whose main purpose is to convert others to their faith. But the absence of protections for social-service oriented religious groups such as soup kitchens and schools would force those entities to comply with the bill if it became law.
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who spoke on the Senate floor against ENDA, told TCO the exemptions in the bill are “too narrowly defined.”
Toomey said the defeat of his amendment was “disappointing.” Yet he voted for the underlying bill anyway.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested he opposed ENDA because LBGT individuals can change their behavior unlike other groups.
“It’s one thing to discriminate because of race or sex discriminations. But when you’re getting into lifestyle discrimination, it’s another matter,” Graham said in an interview Thursday afternoon.
Those who sought to find compromise between the views of gay-rights and religious-groups supporters were few in number. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) voted for ENDA and Toomey’s amendment. In addition, she co-sponsored an amendment with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that the Senate passed by voice vote Wednesday.
Yet the Ayotte-Toomey amendment falls short of the provisions that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Focus on the Family sought. It would prevent the federal government from denying to give government grants, benefits, and tax-exempt status to religious organizations. Ayotte said the provisions were “anti-retaliatory.”
After the vote on ENDA Thursday afternoon, several beaming Democratic senators celebrated with gay and lesbian leaders such as Winnie Stachelberg, formerly the leader of the Human Rights Campaign.
Tom Harkin of Iowa, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Debbie Stabenow hugged their cheering supporters and posed for pictures with them.
The celebration may be short lived, however. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said he will not schedule a vote on the Senate bill this year.