Originally published: Nov. 7, 2013, 2:11 p.m.
Updated: Nov. 7, 2013, 2:56 p.m.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — North Carolina’s two U.S. senators split on their support of the LGBT-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) during a successful 64-32 floor vote passing the measure this afternoon.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan voted for the measure, which would ban anti-LGBT discrimination by employers.
“I voted in favor of the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act because no one should be turned away from a job or fired because of his or her sexual orientation,” Hagan said in a statement from Press Secretary Christopher Moyer. “I oppose discrimination in all its forms and believe that today’s vote is an important step toward ensuring equality in the workplace. Every American deserves an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential and I hope my colleagues can come together to pass this bill.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr voted against it. Burr’s opposition to ENDA comes after his previous support for ending the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on open gay and lesbian military service.
Burr Press Secretary Robert Reid said the reasoning for the senator’s opposition to ENDA had not changed since his statement on the topic in July 2013.
“Like most Americans, I strongly oppose and condemn unjust discrimination,” Burr said in July. “It is my hope that our society can be tolerant of different people and ideas. That said, whenever we consider new legislation we must always consider the interplay of new laws with existing rights. I am concerned that the ENDA bill would go beyond our existing laws protecting individuals’ employment rights and would impose new burdens and legal uncertainties regarding the exercise of religious liberties. Therefore, I plan to oppose the bill.”
Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, had worked to encourage supporters to contact Burr during the week leading up to today’s vote. The group’s executive director, Chris Sgro, praised the bill’s Senate passage.
“I am thrilled that ENDA has overwhelmingly passed the United State Senate,” Sgro told qnotes. “Workplace protections are so common sense that most North Carolinians believe they are already in place and over 70 percent of North Carolinians believe that workplace discrimination should be illegal.”
Sgro, who formerly worked as a Hagan economic development staffer, added, “I am very excited that Sen. Hagan voted for the measure and disappointed Sen. Burr doesn’t recognize what the super-majority of North Carolinians do, which is that everybody should be able to be who they are in the work place and no one should fear being fired for being themselves.”
ENDA would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents say the bill could infringe upon the religious liberties of those who believe homosexuality is a sin. The legislation contains some exemptions for religious organizations, though an amendment offered on Thursday morning would have further extended the exemptions to non-religious workplaces and subject even workers in non-religious environments to possible discrimination. That amendment, which Burr supported, was voted down.
Some LGBT activists think the bill’s current religious exemptions are too broad. Activist group GetEQUAL wants the religious exemptions stripped from the bill and is asking President Barack Obama to sign an executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.
The bill must still be voted on in the U.S. House, where Speaker John Boehner has announced his opposition to the bill. Advocates are hoping Boehner will allow the bill to come to a House floor vote.
“We firmly believe that if the House of Representative were freed by Speaker John Boehner to vote its conscience, this bill could pass immediately,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “It’s unconscionable that any one person would stand in the way of this crucial piece of the civil rights puzzle.”
ENDA has been introduced in all but one congressional session since 1994.
Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., provide some form of protection for gay workers. Seventeen states also prohibit discrimination against transgender workers. North Carolina is not among them.
Some municipalities have passed ordinances or policies protecting local government workers. Sixteen city and county governments across North Carolina provide some form of LGBT employee protections. Only three counties — Buncombe, Mecklenburg and Orange — protect transgender workers. Five cities — Asheville, Boone, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Charlotte — also include protections for gender identity or expression.