WASHINGTON - Invoking the Declaration of Independence, proponents of a bill that would outlaw discrimination against gays in the workplace argued on Tuesday that the measure is rooted in fundamental fairness for all Americans.
Republican opponents of the measure were largely silent, neither addressing the issue on the second day of Senate debate nor commenting unless asked. Written statements from some rendered their judgment that the bill would result in costly, frivolous lawsuits and mandate federal law based on sexuality.
The Senate moved closer to completing its work on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a final vote in the Senate is possible by week's end.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, right, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, stands with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, just after the Senate cleared a major hurdle and agreed to proceed to debate a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday. The bipartisan vote increases the chances that the Senate will pass the bill by week's end, but its prospects in the Republican-led House are dimmer.
Senate passage of the bill would represent a major victory for advocates of gay rights just months after the Supreme Court affirmed gay marriage and granted federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples and three years after Congress ended the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Illinois was poised to become the 15th state to legalize gay marriage after the state's Legislature gave its final approval Tuesday, sending it to the governor, who has said he'll sign it.
"I don't believe in discriminating against anybody," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a backer of the measure who voted against a similar, narrower bill 17 years ago. Hatch said the bill has language ensuring religious freedom that he expects the Senate to toughen.
The measure, however, faces strong opposition in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, maintains that it is unnecessary and could prove too expensive and litigious for businesses.
Resistance remains within GOP ranks even as the national party, looking beyond core older voters, tries to be more inclusive. Republicans struggled to win over young people and independents in the 2012 presidential election.
Asked why he opposed the bill, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the measure is "somewhat pandering to the special groups that I think should not have to be singled out by themselves. I think they're normal citizens like everybody else."
A bipartisan group of senators pressed ahead with the legislation, casting it as a clear sign of Americans' greater acceptance of homosexuality that has significantly changed the political dynamic.
A Pew Research survey in June found that more Americans said homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged by society by a margin of 60 percent to 31 percent. Opinions were more evenly divided 10 years ago.
"What changed is society has changed," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "Personal attitudes have changed, business is for it. There's just widespread support for taking these other steps in passing a civil rights bill."