The Senate passed major civil rights legislation Thursday — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - a bill that protects lesbian, gay, bixesual, and for the first time ever, transgender Americans from discrimination in the workplace.
"Let the bells of freedom ring," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the bill's lead sponsor, said ahead of the bill's final passage. "This is a terrific day for fairness and freedom."
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay member of the Senate, said the vote was a moment she would never forget.
"For folks like myself in the LGBT community, the opportunity to be judged in the workplace by your skills and qualifications, your loyalty and your work ethic is an important proclamation," Baldwin said. "This is a tremendous milestone."
Before the bill passed, Democrats stood to remember former Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., the man who brought ENDA to the floor 17 years ago in 1996. Back then, the bill did not include protections for transgender Americans and failed by just one vote.
"Sen. Kennedy is looking down from heaven and smiling," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
The entire Democratic caucus voted in favor of the bill. Ten Republicans crossed the political aisle to also support the legislation including three who were on the fence, Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
In order to pass the bill, a broader religious exception was tacked on, but the amendment did not satisfy everyone.
In a floor speech against the bill, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said the legislation did not go far enough to protect religious freedom.
"I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion," Coats said.
Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tweeted at House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, "to do the right thing" and take up the bill.
Boehner, however, is not expected to put ENDA on the floor of the GOP-controlled House and has already issued a statement against the bill.
Boehner argues that the legislation would burden businesses with "frivolous litigation" and "cost American jobs" though a Government Accountability Study released in July countered that claim. The report showed that in the 22 states where LGBT people are protected by some form of anti-discrimination laws, "the administrative complaint data reported by states at that time showed relatively few employment discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity."