Utah Senator Orrin Hatch voted by-proxy in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA, which would prohibit employers from discriminating employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The final vote, which was held by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, came up in favor of the bill, with 15 voting for it and 7 against. Hatch is one of 4 Republicans to go on record supporting the bill.
Hatch said the vote was difficult for him, but that his opposition to discrimination and the bill's wording that would exempt religious institutions from having to comply swayed him to vote yes.
The Committee Chairman, Democrat Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa, said ENDA followed in the footsteps of other anti-discrimination laws passed in previous decades. He called the current lack of protection "un-American."
"Over the past nearly half century, we have made great strides toward eliminating descrimination in the workplace. We still have a long way to go, but our country is a far better place because of laws barring discrimination based on race and sex, national origin, religion, age and disability, among others," Harkin said. "It is time, long past time I believe, to also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Such discrimination is wrong and should not be tolerated in our country."
Harkin said he hopes that the senate will begin debating the bill this fall, where it would need 60 votes to pass. Though it is unsure if the house would pick up the bill
Currently 17 states prohibit the discrimination of employees based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. Utah has no state-wide discrimination laws.