The US Senate [official website] on Monday voted 61-30 to move forward with the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) [text], which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As federal law currently stands, employers are only prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, disability and age. Only a minority of states currently extend employment protections to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Senate approval of this legislation would be a victory for gay rights advocactes, as a similar measure was introduced [AP report] in 1996 under the Bill Clinton administration, but failed to move forward by one vote. If ultimately approved by the Senate, the legislation would next proceed to the House of Representatives [official website], where it will face strong opposition led by Speaker John Boehner [official profile].
Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has recently been a controversial issue in the US. The US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) [official website] in July approved a version [JURIST report] of ENDA. HELP held a hearing [JURIST report] in June 2012 regarding ENDA, focusing on discrimination faced by LGBT employees across the country. Earlier in June 2012 JURIST Guest Columnist Brynne Madway argued [JURIST op-ed] that the LGBT community must shift some of its focus to promoting anti-discrimination laws, noting that only a small number of states have nondiscrimination laws that include gender identity and sexual orientation. In January the Virginia Senate initially approved legislation [JURIST report] that would prohibit the state government from discriminating against its employees based on sexual orientation.