A bill to ban workplace discrimination against gays narrowly cleared a Republican procedural roadblock in the U.S. Senate on Monday, just hours after the top Republican in Congress declared his opposition.
On a vote of 61-30, one more than the needed 60, the Democratic-led Senate agreed to begin consideration of the bipartisan bill, with passage likely by the end of this week.
The Employee Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 has become the latest example of the ideological struggle within a divided Republican Party.
While an increasing number of Republicans back gay rights, reflecting the sentiment of the country, conservative groups threaten to challenge them in next year's elections when a third of the 100-member Senate and the full 435-member House will be up for grabs.
Once the Senate gives its anticipated approval of the bill, it will face an uphill climb in the Republican-led House of Representatives where Speaker John Boehner staked out his position in a one-sentence statement.
"The speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," said Boehner's press secretary, Michael Steel.
The statement made it clear that chances to turn the White House-backed bill into law before next year's election are slim and that the legislation may not even come up for a House vote.
Regardless, proponents refused to give up hope.
"We feel we have the momentum," said Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, a cosponsor of the bill who last year became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.
Baldwin said she believes if the bill was brought up for a House vote, it would win bipartisan approval, clearing the way for President Barack Obama to sign it into law.
Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, the leader of a center-right group of about 40 House Republicans, said, "It is my hope that this legislation will be brought to the House Floor - allowing the members to vote as they see fit and showing the American people that Congress can work in a bipartisan manner on an important issue of fairness."
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