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Rob Portman
Rob Portman
Two Republican senators have won approval of their amendment to add protections for religious groups already exempt from the equal rights provisions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The amendment, backed by Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio, would prevent the federal government from retaliating against such groups.
Portman, who became the first sitting Senate Republican to endorse same-sex marriage after learning his son is gay, added in a statement that religious freedom was an “important” provision in ENDA and said he was “pleased” the measure quickly cleared the Senate. The amendment was approved by voice vote.

“We must make certain that in pursuit of enforcing non-discrimination, those religious employers are not subject to a different form of discrimination—government retaliation,” Portman said.

Ayotte, Portman and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania were among the seven Republicans who joined all the Democrats and Senate independents in supporting a cloture motion on ENDA Monday on a 61-30 vote. With the motion short two votes at the last minute, the three were the subject of intense efforts in the Senate cloakroom by Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon to get them on board. That reportedly produced Democratic promises to support the amendment. Toomey wants a vote on another amendment to expand the definition of religious groups under ENDA.

Collins, one of the bill's chief sponsors said after the cloture vote:

Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, a chief sponsor of the legislation, said the 60-plus bipartisan vote should force the House to vote on the legislation.

"It was Republican votes that made the difference tonight, and that that is a strong signal," Senator Collins said. "I also think that attitudes are changing very rapidly on gay rights issues and we're seeing that with each passing day. More and more people have embraced equality."

Quite true and quite welcome obviously. But though Senate passage by week's end is all-but-guaranteed, House Speaker John Boehner is opposed to bringing the measure to a vote in that chamber, despite the added protection for religious groups.

ENDA would prohibit employers with 15 or more workers on the payroll from considering a person's sexual orientation or gender identity when making employment decisions about hiring, firing, compensation or promotion. In other words, it would establish elementary fairness in such matters. But, as we have seen so often, some of our elected representatives don't care about fairness or justice or equality. Talking about you, Congressman Boehner.

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