At just after 6 a.m., Alaska time, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) struck the gavel to call the morning’s United States Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to order. The featured item on the docket was the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA); a piece of federal legislation aimed at prohibiting workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. He began the brief meeting, which began and ended in less than 20 minutes, with an opening statement:
Today is a historic day in the health committee where we have the opportunity to move forward with landmark civil rights legislation that I believe will make us a stronger, better, and more fair country…. It is time to make clear that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are equal, first-class citizens, [and that] they are fully recognized and welcomed as a member of our American family, and they deserve the same civil rights protections as all other Americans…. Equal opportunity is not an abstract principle or a matter of statistics. Decent, hard working Americans are being hurt by discrimination of this sort every day. They correctly demand the same equal opportunity and non-discrimination that other Americans enjoy.
For Anchorage residents, the bill is not new territory. S.815 is very similar to the legislation Alaska’s most populace municipality has failed to codify twice in the last four years. The only difference is that ENDA extends solely to employment – not housing and credit, as 2009′s Ordinance 64 and 2012′s Prop 5. But, like our local attempts, the legislation offers exemptions to small businesses and religious organizations.
Senator Murkowski, who sits on the HELP comittee, was not on record going into the day’s session. In June, she penned a lengthy explanation on her website explaining her decision to become the third GOP senator to back same-sex marriage, but as late as this Tuesday was not giving a definitive response on the ENDA vote, saying that she wanted to take a look at what amendments might be put on the table.
Her support of marriage equality, according to her, hinged on her belief that “We don’t want the government in our pockets or our bedrooms,” but that didn’t specify whether or not she believed LGBT Americans have the right to be gay outside their bedrooms.
Today, she joined 14 other committee members in voting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act out of committee. “If you listen to your folks back home this is important to them,” she told Metro Weekly following her vote.
Sen. Harkin smiled a bit as the role call was completed and the vote was tallied, and offered closing remarks:
I know for many in the audience, this seemed to happen very rapidly. But let me tell you, we’ve worked hard on both sides on this bill. As I said, it first came up in this committee in 2002, so – what – eleven years later, we finally got it out of committee and, as I said, I’ve talked to the leader about this bill, on both sides, and hopefully we can bring it up for debate in the senate this fall. So, it has been a long time coming. And sometimes these things, you work on for years and years, and all of a sudden in just a few minutes it passes.
Voting Yea: Senators Mikulski, Murray, Sanders, Casey, Hagan, Franken, Bennet, Whitehouse, Baldwin, Murphy, Warren, Hatch, Murkowski, Kirk, Harkin.
Voting Nay: Senators Alexander, Enzi, Burr, Isakson, Paul, Roberts, Scott.