UPDATE: The Senate ENDA has 38 sponsors and counting . . .
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley made history today by being the first to introduce an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the U.S. Senate with bi-partisan support from long-time sponsor Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).
The first-term Sen. Merkley told the Washington Blade he’s sponsoring the legislation because “it stems from core conviction” about his belief in fairness and equality.
“For me, one of the huge issues that I’ve cared a lot about is equality under the law and fairness to all Americans, and this was just a core part of the way I view the world,” he said
In an official press release, Sen. Merkley wrote, "There is no place in the workplace for employment discrimination. No worker in America should be fired or denied a job based on who they are. Discrimination is wrong, period. I'm proud to join Senator Kennedy, who is a civil rights legend, and Senators Collins and Snowe, both champions for equality, in taking this next step in our ongoing effort to create a more perfect union and guarantee every American, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the right to earn a living."
In response, Human Rights Campaign launched a lobby effort today, to rally the community to contact senators through email, urging their support.
In an e-mail blast, the HRC states, "In 29 states, you can be fired solely because you're gay – and if you're transgender, that's 38 states. It's outrageous, and it's unacceptable."
Current federal law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability.
Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, whose organization has pushed for this bill since 1974, said, "People recognize that our nation as a whole benefits when everyone is allowed to contribute their talents and skills, free from discrimination, which is all ENDA seeks to do."
Rep. Barney Frank, the lead sponsor for the inclusive ENDA bill in the House, has stated he is optimistic about its chances in the House, but is more reserved about the Senate. In order for the bill to be filibuster proof in the senate chamber, 60 votes will be needed, although 51 votes will be all it needs to pass. Right now, it's not clear if the 60 votes are in hand, and some have expressed that they do not want the bill to hit the Senate floor for a vote if it is not filibuster proof.
President Obama promised in his campaign to sign an inclusive ENDA bill if it reached his desk. With Obama being adamant that Congress be the key to protecting LGBT rights through legislation, it will be interesting to see if and how the White House pushes Congress to pass ENDA.