By Pat Loeb
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) -- US senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is winning praise for his vote to advance a bill banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
But the conservative senator from Lehigh County has carved a careful path in casting his vote.
Brian Sims, Pennsylvania's first openly gay state representative, today hailed Toomey's vote as confirmation that, in Sims' words, "civil rights is not an issue of right and left, but an issue of right and wrong."
But Toomey left himself an out, should the vote provoke criticism from fellow conservatives. His statement says he voted to let the Senate debate the bill in hopes it will be amended to allow religious exemptions.
"This is an olive branch to social conservatives that he is thinking of their interest as well, so he is really toeing a line here," says political strategist Jeff Jubelirer.
Jubelirer says it's unlikely that such an amendment would pass, so Toomey could always change his vote when the bill comes up for final passage -- which Jubelirer says is a shrewd position.
"Toomey has carved himself out a nice, sort of, 'Hey, I'm not just a Tea Party Republican who is a madman.' In essence, he gets to split his cards down the middle and, politically speaking, that's a very smart thing for him to do."
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