Yesterday, after facing considerable pressure from both the LGBT rights movement nationally and advocates in his home state of Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson announced his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, according to the Washington Blade:
The senator’s name is listed as among the sponsors of ENDA on “Thomas,” the website for the Library of Congress that monitors legislation. According to the website, Nelson signed on as a supporter Monday, the same day Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that a Senate vote on ENDA would take place before Thanksgiving.
The news was first reported via Twitter by the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters.
The Florida Democrat’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on why the senator had come to support ENDA. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in July, Nelson had expressed concerns about the transgender protections in the bill.
ENDA, which would ban employers from making hiring and firing decisions based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, now has 54 sponsors in the Senate, and will gain a 55th when Senator-elect Cory Booker joins the chamber to represent New Jersey.
Nelson's announcement came just one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada promised that ENDA will receive a vote on the Senate floor before Thanksgiving, and possibly within the next week or so.
This summer, ENDA was reported out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on a bipartisan 15-7 vote, with Republican Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin Hatch of Utah joining the committee's 12 Democrats to advance the bill. If those three senators support ENDA on the Senate floor, it will be just three votes shy of overcoming a Republican filibuster.
With only two Democratic senators holding out on endorsing ENDA–which would put the bill just one vote away from a filibuster-proof majority–LGBT advocates are ramping up the political pressure directed at the reluctant lawmakers. As Tico Almeida, founder and President of Freedom to Work put it in a statement following Nelson's announcement, proponents of ENDA expect a unified Democratic caucus to put its support behind the bill:
“Senators Manchin and Pryor are now the only two Democrats playing coy about whether they will stand on the right side of history. ENDA simply says a corporation can’t fire you just because of who you are or who you love, and Americans want a country where people are judged for the job they do based on their skills and hard work, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. We urge Sen. Manchin and Sen. Pryor to stand with the majority of Americans, and the majority of people in their states and support the LGBT freedom to work.”
Despite the LGBT movement's push for the passage of ENDA, some in the community have expressed reservations about the bill's religious exemptions. In a statement issued today, the LGBT organization GetEQUAL said that the exemptions written into ENDA could set a "dangerous, unnecessary, and un-American precedent":
“While we are glad that ENDA will receive a vote in the Senate for the first time in almost 20 years, we are dismayed that the bill continues to excuse religious bigotry as acceptable under the law. Broad religious exemptions in the bill actually make it possible that institutions such as schools, hospitals, and universities can continue discriminating against LGBT employees and prospective employees.
We’re calling on progressive champions in the Senate — including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown — to speak out against these exemptions, establishing a clear record that these exemptions are not necessary and are not acceptable in 2013.”