Pat Toomey helps LGBT workplace nondiscrimination clear hurdle

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Sen. Pat Toomey joined 54 Democrats and six fellow Republicans to vote for closure on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill which would end discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace.

The bill will now receive a vote in the full Senate, where it is virtually guaranteed to pass by the same or similar margins.

Toomey (R-PA), a swing vote on the bill, had been publicly lobbied through calling campaigns and emails organized by LGBT and human rights groups, which applauded him after the vote took place.

“After hearing from over 4,000 individual Pennsylvanians, more than 300 small business owners, and faith leaders from around the commonwealth, Senator Toomey stood on the right side of history and against workplace discrimination,” wrote Equality PA executive director Ted Martin in a mass post-vote email.

The Human Rights Campaign says they sent out 5,000 emails to Toomey “in addition to more than 7,000 phone calls and personalized postcards.”

Toomey said after the vote that he “long believed that more legal protections are appropriate to prevent employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

He added he’d like the bill to be “improved, especially as it pertains to religious organizations”—and he’ll likely work on that as it hits the Senate floor.

But don’t celebrate just yet. The Senate’s rules are such that this vote merely ended debate on whether or not to bring the bill to the Senate floor. It still has to go through an amendment process. As of now, the bill defines “employers” as those with 15 or more employees—those with less than 15 employees would still be allowed to fire based on gender identity and sexual orientation, if the bill becomes law.

Many believe the legislation will die when it gets to the House. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has threatened to kill the bill, believing it will lead to job losses and lawsuits. Except given Toomey’s place in Washington as a guy who essentially only cares about jobs and dollar signs, Pennsylvania’s Republican senator may have just made the argument a little tougher on Boehner.

Randy LoBasso on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

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