WASHINGTON — Reflecting Americans' increasing acceptance of gays, the Senate approved legislation Thursday that would bar workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Gay rights advocates hailed the bipartisan, 64-32 vote as a historic step although it could prove short-lived. A foe of the bill, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has signaled that the Republican-led House is unlikely to even vote. Senate proponents were looking for a way around that obstacle.
Seventeen years after a similar anti-discrimination measure failed by one vote, 54 members of the Senate Democratic majority and 10 Republicans voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It is the first major gay rights bill since Congress repealed the ban on gays serving openly in the military three years ago.
"All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a chief sponsor of the bill.
Proponents cast the effort as Congress following the lead of business and localities as some 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 22 states have outlawed employment discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
In the House, Boehner has maintained his longstanding opposition despite pleas from national Republicans for the GOP to broaden its appeal to a fast-changing demographic. Boehner argues that the bill is unnecessary and would touch off costly, meritless lawsuits.
President Barack Obama said in a statement, "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."