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Senate approves gay rights legislation; bill faces bleak future in House

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Nov. 7, 2013.

The Senate approved historic legislation Thursday to expand workplace protections for gay, lesbian and transgender Americans. But the bill faces a bleak future in the GOP-led House.

The final vote was 64-32. Ten Republicans voted with all Democrats in favor of passage. 

The Senate’s approval of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) comes after a failed attempt in 1996, when the bill -- championed by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts -- failed by a single vote.

Despite the bipartisan vote in the upper chamber, the legislation appears unlikely to get a vote in the House. Republican House Speaker John Boehner opposes the bill, saying through a spokesman this week that it would “increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs.”

A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said there are no plans for the House to take up the legislation.

"The bill is currently not scheduled in the House," said spokesman Rory Cooper. "I hope Majority Leader Reid soon addresses the dozens of House-passed bills that have been ignored in the Senate that create jobs, improve education and create opportunity while Americans struggle to find a good-paying job."

Senators Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin call on Speaker John Boehner to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act up for a vote at a news conference Thursday.

In a statement, President Barack Obama praised the Senate's action, calling it a step towards "realizing the rights and freedoms that are our birthright as Americans."

Before the final vote, Democratic supporters likened the bill to the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act and called on Boehner to bring it to a vote.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that the GOP will be “sending their party straight to oblivion” if they refuse to bring the legislation up for a vote in the House.

Alluding to past political figures that stood in the way of discrimination-ending laws, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois warned Boehner to “think about their place in history today.”

Obama issued a similar criticism of the House, saying "One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do.  Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it."

The Senate bill attracted some additional GOP support after Reid allowed amendments to further ensure that religious organizations -- along with the United States military -- would be exempted.

One amendment from Republican Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was adopted Wednesday by voice vote. That measure would prevent federal, state and local governments from retaliation against groups exempted from the new law.  

An amendment authored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., which would have exempted groups that don’t primarily engage in religious work but have an affiliation with a particular faith, failed. 

NBC's Frank Thorp contributed.

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