WASHINGTON — The Senate moved forward Tuesday on the first major bill barring workplace discrimination against gays in nearly two decades as Americans' shifting views about homosexuality have significantly changed the political dynamic.
The progress welcomed by gay rights advocates stood in contrast to the strong opposition from conservative groups who challenge legislation based on sexuality and House Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who insists that the bill would lead to costly, frivolous lawsuits and undermine job creation.
Boehner's longstanding opposition cast doubt on whether the House will even vote on the bill in the remaining weeks of the year. That drew criticism from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"Coming from the man whose caucus spent $3 million in taxpayer dollars defending the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage law in court, that's pretty rich," said Reid, who cited a Government Accountability Office study that found few lawsuits in states with discrimination laws.
Aside from statements critical of the bill, Republicans opponents have remained relatively mum. No GOP senator has spoken in opposition during more than a day of debate and prior to Monday night's procedural vote, no word of disagreement was uttered.
Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have remained neutral on the issue.
Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., were crafting amendments to the bill dealing with religious exemptions.
Seven Republicans and 54 Democrats stood together Monday and cleared the bill past its first hurdle on a 61-30 vote, setting the stage for possible passage by week's end. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.