The US House of Representatives has taken a historic step by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which specifically protects lesbians and gays from workplace discrimination, but it could still be vetoed by President Bush.

The vote on Wednesday, with 235 for and 184 against, marks the first time ever that either chamber of Congress has passed employment protections based on sexual orientation. Activists have been attempting to pass ENDA-like bills through Congress since the 1970’s with no success.

“Today, we witnessed the making of civil rights history in the U.S. House of Representatives by the passing of ENDA,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is said to be America’s largest civil rights organisation working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.

“This vote by Congress is an important step at ensuring that millions of gay and lesbian Americans will never again have to go to work in fear of losing their jobs because of who they are,” said Solmonese.

In 31 states, it is currently legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. In 39 states, it is legal to fire a person for being transgender.

The Human Rights Campaign and other others have been criticised by some commentators and activists for supporting ENDA, although it failed to include specific protection for transgender people, as was originally intended.

HRC responded that it was “disappointed” that the bill did not include protections for transgender Americans, but it “believes the successful passage of [the] bill is a step forward for all Americans, and that it paves the way for additional progress to outlaw workplace discrimination based on gender identity.”

“Our fight for equality will not be won overnight,” said Solmonese. “It will be won one step at a time, and we will not give up until we reach the finish line. This is a critical piece of legislation and a major step toward the finish line for all Americans.”

While activists have applauded the passing of ENDA, the Senate must still approve the bill before it becomes law. Additionally, the White House has already indicated that if the Senate does so, it will recommend that President Bush vetoes the legislation as it may be “unconstitutional.”

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