Democrats have been citing polls that indicate 4 out of 5 Americans believe such protections already exist under the law and 56 percent of Republican voters supporting ENDA.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama welcomed the “first step toward final passage” of ENDA.

“He has long supported an inclusive ENDA, which would establish lasting and comprehensive Federal protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Carney said. “He thanks the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have stood up for America’s core values of fairness and equality, and looks forward to the Senate’s consideration of ENDA.  He also encourages lawmakers to ensure that the legislation remains true to its goals as it is considered.”

This seems to allude to a fear of amendments proposed by those concerned about religious protections.

A handful of House Republicans have come out in support of ENDA thus far. In 2007, 35 Republicans backed a version of the bill.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), though, may not bring it to the floor for a vote. “The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

A Boehner aide later stressed to the Huffington Post that the speaker’s position on ENDA is “not a new issue or a new position — it’s a longstanding position, and, frankly, not ‘news’ at all.”

“We have always believed this is covered by existing law,” the aide said.

The Family Research Council has dedicated an entire website to stopping ENDA, saying “ENDA is a ‘one size fits all’ solution to alleged discrimination that erases all marriage-based distinctions. It grants special rights to homosexuals while ignoring those of employers. The federal government should not force private businesses to abandon their moral principles.”

The FRC’s legislative arm claims the bill would “mandate the employment of homosexuals in inappropriate occupations” and “would approvingly bring private behavior considered immoral by many into the public square.”

Portman said that despite voting to move the bill forward, he had concerns “that ENDA could leave the door open for the government to discriminate” against religious groups.

“I am pleased that the bill’s authors have decided to allow a vote on my amendment to prevent retaliation against religious organizations. I am also pleased that the authors were willing to support my amendment to make other changes to the bill’s introductory section that highlight and explain the importance of religious liberty,” he said.

“In the workplace, people should be judged by their experience, qualifications, and job performance, not by their sexual orientation,” Portman added. “The basic purpose of ENDA is to help create a level playing field and ensure that employment opportunities are available to all.”