WASHINGTON (JTA) — An array of liberal Jewish groups lauded the U.S. Senate for passing a bill that would extend federal anti-discrimination protections to gays.
“Today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is an overdue and historic accomplishment in our nation’s effort to end workplace discrimination for the LGBT community,” Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, said Thursday.
“ENDA will extend federal workplace protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, who deserve to be judged on the merits of their work, not on whom they love,” said Saperstein, who for years has been among those leading advocacy for such a bill.
The bill was passed 64-32, with the support of all 55 senators in the Democratic caucus and nine Republicans.
Also praising its passage were the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Jewish Committee.
Expressing concern about the passage was Agudath Israel of America, saying its final version “fails to adequately take into account the rights of religious entities.”
Agudath Israel, an umbrella for haredi Orthodox groups, noted that the bill has a religious exemption, but said “it is not clear which religious entities or activities come within its parameters.”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who voted in favor of the final version, had offered an amendment that would have extended protections to religiously affiliated private businesses, but proponents of the bill kept it from being included, saying the loophole could ultimately exempt virtually any business.
The Orthodox Union, another Orthodox group, did not release a statement. But when asked, its Washington director, Nathan Diament, singled out for praise Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) for inserting into the bill bans on government retaliation against organizations that seek religious exemptions.
The bill now goes to the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives. Leaders there have suggested they will not bring it to a vote.