Sen. Mark Kirk supports ENDA in first Senate speech since stroke
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) 110413 [The Huffington Post]

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) devoted his first remarks on the Senate floor on Monday since suffering a stroke to expressing his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Huffington Post reported.

"I have been silent for the past two years due to a stroke," Kirk said, after being allowed to speak while sitting down. "I have risen to speak because I believe so passionately in enacting the ENDA statute."

The Senate is scheduled to vote to open debate on the measure, which would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, Monday evening.

"This is not a major change to law," Kirk said on Monday. "I would say it is already the law in 21 states. I think it's particularly appropriate for an Illinois Republican to speak on behalf of this measure, in the true tradition of Everett McKinley Dirksen and Abraham Lincoln -- men who gave us the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 13th amendment to the Constitution."

Kirk suffered an ischemic stroke in January 2012, requiring surgery to relieve swelling around his brain. He was elected in 2010 to fill the Senate seat vacated when President Barack Obama took office.

Watch video of Kirk's remarks, as posted online on Monday, below.

Update, 6:49 p.m. EST: The story has been corrected to reflect the Senate voting to open debate on ENDA. MSNBC reported that the vote passed by a 61-30 margin.

Update, 7:03 p.m. EST: Social activist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, GetEQUAL and People For the American Way (PFAW) released statements praising the Senate's decision Monday night.

"Our members from coast to coast have spoken very clearly that the LGBT community deserves a bill that protects us now and in the future against religious bigotry," GetEQUAL's statement read. "The current religious exemptions can potentially harm our community by allowing religiously-affiliated institutions from schools to hospitals have the legal permission to discriminate against LGBT workers. Even worse, it cements discrimination into law, and sets a backward precedent that affirms the second-class citizenship of LGBT Americans."

PFAW president Michael Keegan said in his group's statement that conservative opponents are painting ENDA in extreme terms.

"From American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer’s declaration that ENDA would ‘represent the return of Jim Crow laws’ to Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver’s warning that ENDA would result in the ‘death of some individuals,’ their outrageous claims make clear just how far away their views are from those of everyday Americans," Keegan's statement read.