WASHINGTON – The first openly-gay lawmaker elected in Pennsylvania, state Rep. Brian Sims, praised Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey for supporting a bill Monday night that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sims, a Philadelphia Democrat, had particularly strong praise for Toomey, a Republican who is generally conservative on social issues but was one of seven Republicans to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), helping it move past a key procedural step and setting the stage for final Senate approval later this week.
"I have long believed that civil rights cannot be a one party issue. Sen. Casey has supported LGBT civil rights from nondiscrimination to marriage equality, and I am proud to see him continue to demonstrate that support tonight," Sims said in a news release. "I am especially proud of Sen. Toomey who tonight confirmed to Americans across the nation that civil rights is not an issue of right and left, but an issue of right and wrong. Senator Toomey's vote in support of ENDA shows that a conservative ideology and support for LGBT equality are not mutually exclusive."
Toomey was the 61st senator to vote in favor of the measure, which needed 60 votes to clear a the procedural hurdle Monday night. He engaged in long discussions with the bill's sponsors, casting his vote immediately after fellow Republican Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) made the deciding vote.
Toomey, though, has not pledged to support final passage of the measure, which is expected to come up for a final Senate vote later this week. He plans to seek amendments to ensure exemptions for religious organizations. Democratic leaders were said to be working with Toomey to ensure that his amendments get an up-or-down vote. (Regardless of Senate passage, however, the bill is expected to run into a dead end in the Republican-controlled House.)
Gay-rights advocates have fought for this measure for nearly 20 years, but have never been able to push it into law. Monday's vote was seen in some quarters as a sign of the political sea change on gay-rights issues. (A full write up on the vote and the bill is in this morning's Inquirer, on Inquirer.com and here on Philly.com).
For Toomey, who has built his political career by focusing on fiscal issues – and who took a hard line on spending and federal debt during the recent government shutdown -- the vote Monday night was a second prominent example of the Republican moving toward the center on highly-charged cultural issues. In the spring he co-sponsored a plan to expand background checks on gun buyers – also winning praise from moderates and Democrats.