BY DONNA CASSATA
WASHINGTON -- Invoking the Declaration of Independence, proponents of a bill that would outlaw discrimination against gays in the workplace argued on Tuesday that the measure is rooted in fundamental fairness for all Americans.
Republican opponents of the measure were largely silent, neither addressing the issue on the second day of Senate debate nor commenting unless asked. Written statements from some rendered their judgment that the bill would result in costly, frivolous lawsuits and mandate federal law based on sexuality.
The Senate moved closer to completing its work on ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a final vote in the Senate is possible by week's end.
Senate passage of the bill would represent a major victory for advocates of gay rights just months after the Supreme Court affirmed gay marriage and granted federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples and three years after Congress ended the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Illinois was poised to become the 15th state to legalize gay marriage after the state's Legislature gave its final approval Tuesday, sending it to the governor, who has said he'll sign it.
"I don't believe in discriminating against anybody," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a backer of the measure who voted against a similar, narrower bill 17 years ago. Hatch said the bill has language ensuring religious freedom that he expects the Senate to toughen.
The measure, however, faces strong opposition in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, maintains that it is unnecessary and could prove too expensive and litigious for businesses.