WASHINGTON-The U.S. Senate approved 64-32 a historic gay rights bill to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity.
"It is time for Congress to pass a federal law that ensures all our citizens, regardless of where they live, can go to work unafraid to be who they are," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
54 Democrats supported the legislation and 10 Republicans.
Religious organizations and the U.S. military are exempted under the Employer Non-Discrimination Act, which helped win GOP support. The bill applies to places of employment with more than 15 people.
ENDA has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994, and it came one vote shy of passage in 1996, but it had not been given a full Senate vote since.
Existing federal laws ban employer discrimination based on race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age and disability.
The legislation is hitting a wall in the GOP-controlled U.S. House, where Speaker John Boehner's office said he does not plan to allow a vote. Boehner opposes the legislation because he says it will cost small business jobs and increasing "frivolous" litigation.
Opponents contend that the legislation is unnecessary because most private businesses, including the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies, have self-adopted policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C. have already enacted laws prohibiting such discrimination.
A June 2013 Pew Research survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults reported 21% who said they have been treated unfairly at work because of their orientation.