WASHINGTON -- LGBT rights advocates chalked up a win on Wednesday as a Senate committee passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions passed the bill, 15 to 7. All Democrats supported it, along with three Republicans: Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Orrin Hatch (Utah). The Republicans who voted no included Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Pat Roberts (Kansas) and Tim Scott (S.C.).
Kirk is a cosponsor of the bill and was expected to support it, while Murkowski was mum when asked on Tuesday how she planned to vote. Hatch told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that he planned to support the bill.
Murkowski later issued a statement saying she was "pleased" to support the bill in committee but left the door open to possible changes on the Senate floor.
“I am a strong believer that individuals should be judged on whether they can do the job, not their sexual orientation," she said. "Improvements might be in order in the form of floor amendments, but discrimination should never be tolerated in the workplace.”
The committee spent just minutes discussing the bill before passing it. Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) drew laughs from the audience when he acknowledged how quickly the vote happened, which he said showed how much bipartisan work went into crafting the bill in the first place. He said his hope is that the full Senate takes up the bill in the fall.
"Today is a great day for the committee," Harkin said, "and a good day for all of Americans."
Currently, federal law bans employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability, but not on sexual orientation or gender identity. This means that, in the 33 states that don't explicitly have such a ban right now, people can be fired, denied a promotion or harassed solely for being LGBT.
ENDA has been introduced in several other congressional sessions and has gotten some hearings, but hasn't had a vote on the House or Senate floor since November 2007, when it passed the House by 235-184. The bill was introduced in this Congress by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate.
The White House later issued a statement applauding the committee's action and pressed the House to get moving on the issue.
President Barack Obama "welcomes the bipartisan approval" of ENDA by the committee, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "The President has long supported an inclusive ENDA, which would enshrine into law strong, lasting and comprehensive protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. We look forward to the full Senate’s consideration of ENDA, and continue to urge the House to move forward on this bill that upholds America’s core values of fairness and equality."
This post has been updated with a statement from the White House and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).