WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a historic gay rights bill to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity.
"It is time for Congress to pass a federal law that ensures all our citizens, regardless of where they live, can go to work unafraid to be who they are," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The final vote was 64-32, with 54 Democrats and 10 Republicans supporting the legislation.
Religious organizations and the U.S. military are exempt under the Employer Non-Discrimination Act, a stipulation that helped win GOP support. The bill applies to work sites with more than 15 people.
ENDA has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994. It came one vote shy of passage in 1996, but had not been given a full Senate vote since.
Existing federal laws ban employer discrimination based on race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age and disability.
The legislation is hitting a wall in the GOP-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner's office said he does not plan to allow a vote. Boehner opposes the legislation because he says it will cost small-business jobs and increasing "frivolous" litigation. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's office also said Thursday there is no vote scheduled.
In a statement, President Obama urged House leaders to bring it up for a vote. "One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do," he said.
Opponents contend that the legislation is unnecessary because most private businesses, including the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies, have self-adopted policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., have already enacted laws prohibiting such discrimination.
A June 2013 Pew Research survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults reported 21% who said they have been treated unfairly at work because of their sexual orientation.
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