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WASHINGTON — A measure that would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity overcame a significant obstacle in the Senate on Monday as seven Republicans crossed party lines and voted to begin debate on the bill.

The 61-30 vote means that the full Senate will consider a measure to extend federal nondiscrimination law to gay, lesbian and bisexual people for the first time since 1996 — a stark reminder, supporters said, that as the public has come around to accepting gay rights, Congress has been slow to keep pace.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., one of the Republicans who voted to open debate, had announced Monday that he would vote yes on the bill, known as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, saying that after conversations with voters at home and colleagues in the Senate, he had determined that “supporting this legislation is the right thing to do.”

It is the first time that the full Senate has considered a measure that includes protection for transgender people.

The bill will face other crucial tests this week before the Senate can ultimately schedule a final vote to approve it, but the first filibuster test was a pivotal hurdle.

The anticipated vote comes four months after the Supreme Court invalidated a federal ban on recognizing same-sex marriages, and nearly a year after some conservative leaders warned that losses in the 2012 elections exposed the party as being out of touch with much of the country on social issues.