BY DONNA CASSATA
WASHINGTON -- The Senate prepared to push major gay rights legislation past a first, big hurdle Monday as Democrats and a handful of Republicans united behind a bill to prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
The legislation could win Senate passage by week's end, but its prospects in the Republican-majority House are dimmer.
Hours before Monday's vote, President Barack Obama issued a fresh plea for passage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the first significant gay rights bill since Congress lifted the ban on gays serving openly in the military nearly three years ago.
All 55 members of the Democratic majority and at least five Republicans were expected to vote to proceed with the bill, giving Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the 60 votes necessary. Reid's Republican colleague in Nevada, Dean Heller, announced his support on Monday, saying that the measure "raises the federal standards to match what we have come to expect in Nevada, which is that discrimination must not be tolerated under any circumstance."
The anti-discrimination bill faces strong opposition from conservative groups — Heritage Action and the Faith and Freedom Coalition said the vote will be part of their legislative scorecard on lawmakers. More to its immediate prospects, the legislation is opposed by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and it's unclear whether the House will even vote on the measure.
Reiterating Boehner's longstanding opposition, spokesman Michael Steel said Monday that Boehner "believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs."