By a 64 to 32 vote, the US Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which includes protections for religious organizations that don't want to hire people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Prior to the final vote, an additional amendment that would have extended protections to employers that are funded by or are affiliated with religious groups was voted down, BuzzFeed and The Hill report.
ENDA, which would prohibit discrimination against workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, would apply to any private employer having more than 15 employees.
Earlier in the week, the Senate voted 61 to 30 for cloture on ENDA, circumventing a potential filibuster by the measure's opponents and paving the way for a final vote in the chamber Nov 7.
While Senate approval of ENDA was virtually assured in the lead-up to the Nov 7 vote, the measure now faces a much more uncertain fate in the House of Representatives, where Republicans are in the majority and Speaker John Boehner has consistently opposed it. He recently suggested that the legislation would be costly and lead to "frivolous" litigation. It is unclear whether the measure will even be brought to the floor for a vote.
President Barack Obama hailed the Senate vote, then urged the House to follow the upper chamber's lead. "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. Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it. I urge the House Republican leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote and send it to my desk so I can sign it into law."
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) also praised the Senate for green-lighting ENDA but criticized Boehner's position regarding the bill and called on him to free up lawmakers to vote their conscience on the issue.
"It’s unconscionable that any one person would stand in the way of this crucial piece of the civil rights puzzle,” the advocacy organization says in a statement.
According to BuzzFeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says ENDA would pass "easy" if House members were allowed to vote on it.
HRC also called on Obama yet again to sign an executive order that would safeguard employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on their sexuality or gender identity.