CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin told news outlets Wednesday he would support a bill protecting gay men, lesbians and transgender individuals from employment discrimination, despite earlier saying he was undecided on the measure.
"There's no way that I could ever not support something that basically bans discrimination," Manchin, D-W.Va., told the New York Times. "There's no way. It's just a fundamental right."
While other minority groups are protected from employment discrimination, there is no explicit protection in federal law for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would bar employers with 15 or more employees from making hiring, firing, compensation or promotion decisions based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could bring the bill up for a vote as early as next week.
Twenty-two states have laws forbidding sexual orientation-based discrimination. Others, like West Virginia, have tried to pass such nondiscrimination bills and failed.
After the Daily Mail asked for comment, Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott said the senator "didn't have much more to say about it," although he noted Manchin would not sign on as a co-sponsor.
"We have decided that he will vote for it," Kott said. "He's always said he did not believe in discrimination in the workplace of any kind."
Manchin was the last Democrat holdout on the nondiscrimination bill. Former holdouts Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., announced Tuesday they would support the legislation.
Kott said Manchin just needed more time to review the measure.
"We review the bills as they come up. He wanted to give it one last look over and he did," he said.
As of Thursday evening, the legislation had 55 co-sponsors, including U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Rockefeller is a longtime ENDA supporter. The last time an employment non-discrimination bill came to the Senate floor -- way back in 1996 -- Rockefeller was one of the 49 "yeas" in an ultimately unsuccessful 49-50 vote. Pryor's father, former Sen. David Pryor, abstained from that vote.
Manchin's support brings the bill within one member of a filibuster-proof 60 votes.
In addition to all 55 Senate Democrats, four Republican senators are expected to support the bill: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. and Sen. Lisa Murkowski R-Alaska.
Even if the bill passes the Senate, it likely will fail in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., did not say whether he would vote for ENDA in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon. He said it's unclear if the House will even take up the bill.
"However, the laws governing workplace discrimination deserve careful scrutiny by the Congress, not only to ensure the Constitutional rights of every American but also to guarantee basic fairness under the law," he said.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she would review the legislation "if and when the Senate sends it to the House for consideration."
Jim Forbes, spokesman for Rep. David McKinley, said the congressman still is reviewing the legislation and did not have a comment.
It is currently legal in West Virginia to fire someone or deny them housing because they are gay, lesbian or transgender.
But according to a poll released in September, an overwhelming majority of West Virginians voters say they support granting gay and lesbians equal employment and housing rights.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, found 68 percent of state voters do not believe sexual orientation- and gender identity-based discrimination should be legal.
Just 16 percent of respondents said the discrimination should be legal, while 15 percent said they were not sure.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.