On this day in LGBT history: In 1996, DOMA passed as ENDA failed in the US Senate

On September 10, 1996, the United States Senate passed the Defense of Marriage Act by a margin of 85 – 14. A short time after that vote, the Senate defeated the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by a vote of 49 – 50. That vote was on the early, non-inclusive version of ENDA.

Here’s how the Washington Blade reported these events back on September 13, 1996 (no link. I was provided a photocopy of the article.) As you’ll see, our side got outmaneuvered, big time:

Nobody had predicted the vote would be so close. Nobody had been certain just how hard President Clinton and Vice President Gore would work to make it happen. All anybody had really agreed up — was that a vote in the Senate this year on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would have on tangible value unless it could thwart the anti-Gay marriage bill known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

But on Tuesday, after an intense and complicated series of behind-the-scenes political tussles, the Senate voted on ENDA — not as an amendment to DOMA, as planned by the Human Rights Campaign — but as a freestanding bill. In a high-powered lobbying blitz at the 11th hour, the president and vice president took to the telephone to push for key votes. And while everyone agrees that there was never any hope that the House would pass ENDA this year, the 49 – 50 Senate that defeated the bill Tuesday afternoon signaled greatly improved prospects for how long it might take Congress to pass a law prohibiting discrimination against Gay people.

“Few Americans people thought we would come this far, this fast,” Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who championed the employment bill, said at a press conference after the votes. “…I’m absolutely convinced that will be a first order of business in the next Congress.”

Well, that’s not exactly what happened. There hasn’t been a vote in the Senate on ENDA since September 19, 1996 — fourteen years ago. But, DOMA sure won big.

Apparently, back in 1996, it mattered if the President and V.P. engaged in lobbying on behalf of legislation they purport to support. How many times have we been told over the past twenty months that it’s all up to Congress?


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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