After weeks of delay, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been passed by the US House of Representatives.
It passed by 235 to 184 – 35 Republicans joined 200 Democrats and voted for the bill.
159 Republicans were joined in voting against by 25 Democrats, many of whom were angry that protections for trans people had been removed from the bill.
ENDA, which would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or promote a person based on sexual orientation, now goes to the Senate.
The decision to remove trans people from the scope of the legislation caused anger among the LGBT community in the US, with many demanding an “all or nothing” stance on ENDA.
Tammy Baldwin, the only openly lesbian Congresswoman who tried to reinstate trans protections, said:
“As in all movements, achieving success is a process, and today’s legislative accomplishment marks a milestone, but certainly not the end, of our quest.
“I offered an amendment because I strongly believe that we must prohibit job discrimination against people because of their gender identity.
“Those left behind by this bill deserve to hear, on the floor of the House, that they are not forgotten and our job will not be finished until they, too, share fully in the American Dream.”
The White House has already indicated that the President will veto ENDA if it makes it through the Senate.
Many of the House Democrats elected for the first time last November do not want ENDA to include protections for trans people, fearful of a backlash from conservatives.
This is the first time since 1994 that legislation that protects LGB people at work has been brought to the House. Pioneering rights activists first tried to pass similar laws in 1974.
“History teaches us that progress on civil rights is never easy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday.
“It is often marked by small and difficult steps.”
ENDA’s supporters in the Senate will need the votes of 60 of the 100 Senators rather than a simple majority to overcome expected Republican attempts to kill the legislation.
Currently 17 states have protections for LGB people; eight of those states extend that protection to trans people.
In 1996 similar legislation failed in the Senate by one vote.
87% of the top Fortune 500 companies in the US already provide protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The US military and religious organisations are excluded from the legislation, which also does not force employers to extend benefits to same-sex partners.