Sen. Cory Booker and Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign in D.C. (Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty)
This week, Illinois became the 15th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, and the U.S. Senate approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which provides federal workplace protections for gay and transgender people. Lawmakers in Hawaii are also voting on a marriage equality bill, which is expected to pass next week.
The bill legalizing gay marriage in Illinois passed by a vote of 61 to 54 in the state's House of Representatives. The decision followed more than a year of lobbying by people on both sides of the issue, the Chicago Tribune reports.
"At the end of the day, what this bill is about is love, it's about family, it's about commitment," said Representative Greg Harris, who sponsored the bill. Illinois's Governor Pat Quinn said he intends to sign the bill, which will take effect June 1, 2014.
Civil unions have been permitted in the state since 2011, but the vote on marriage equality was stalled by a "long and difficult" debate, the New York Times reports. Both legislative chambers in Illinois are controlled by the Democrats, but the Times writes that "the issue had been particularly vexing" for some politicians whose base does not support gay marriage. In the end, the bill passed with a vote of 61 to 54.
At the federal level, the U.S. Senate approved ENDA on Thursday, which bans employers from making hiring and firing decisions based on sexual orientation. The photograph above shows Senator Cory Booker and Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, embracing at the U.S. Capitol after the ENDA vote.
Advocates for gay and human rights have been pushing ENDA for nearly two decades: the late Senator Edward Kennedy first advocated for the bill in 1994.
Although the Senate vote represents a victory for ENDA supporters, the legislation is not likely to be enacted in the immediate future because it is opposed by the Republican-controlled House. Speaker John Boehner says he opposes the bill because it could expose businesses to "frivolous lawsuits."
President Obama has given his opinion on the issue, saying in a statement, "one party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do. Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it."
Under the bill, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would enforce the new workplace rules, The Hill reports. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees, and religious organizations, would be exempt.
In Hawaii, House lawmakers are meeting for a final debate and vote today on a bill to legalize gay marriage on the islands. The Associated Press reports that the bill "is likely to pass" in today's vote, after which it will be sent to the Senate for another vote early next week.
Hawaii's Senate already approved an earlier version of the bill, but it has since been amended to exempt clergy and religious organizations from having to solemnize or provide services for same-sex weddings. Because of those changes, the Senate will have to vote on the bill once more before it can become law. If that vote is successful, same-sex marriages will begin on December 2 in the state.