On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which provides federal workplace protections for gay and transgender Americans, on a 15–7 vote. Three Republican senators, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Utah’s Orrin Hatch joined all 12 Democrats on the committee in passing the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, d-Nev., has indicated that he expects the full Senate to consider the bill later this year.
This marks the first time that a trans-inclusive version of ENDA has ever passed the committee.
Hatch supported the bill because of the religious protections it included.
“I appreciate that the authors of this bill were willing to include a robust religious exemption in this bill. I voted for it because it prohibits discrimination that should not occur in the workplace, it protects the rights of religious entities, and minimizes legal burdens on employers,” Hatch said in a statement.
The religious exemption referred to by Hatch is a provision that allows religious organizations to require employees and applicants to conform to a declared set of significant religious tenets. These tenets could be used to bar LGBT people from positions within religious organizations.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. said that he has three amendments that he will bring to the floor when the Senate considers the bill.