Out Rep. Jared Polis Trims ENDA's Religious Exemption

Colorado Rep. Jared Polis wants sexual orientation and gender identity treated the same way as race, religion, sex, and national origin, when it comes to employment protections.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

July 24 2014 4:11 PM ET

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis 

The gay lead sponsor for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act quietly trimmed down the much-maligned religious exemption in the legislation currently pending before the House. 

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and out father, filed a resolution Tuesday that essentially rewrites ENDA's religious exemption as part of an effort to force a vote on the stalled legislation, despite House Speaker John Boehner's continued refusal to bring up the bill for debate, reports BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner.

BuzzFeed notes that Polis's latest move, made without public comment, is part of a legislative strategy known as a discharge petition, which seeks to secure a majority of House votes in favor of considering the legislation. The aim is to essentially override the speaker's refusal to bring the bill out of committee. Although the ultimate success of a discharge petition is questionable — as it's only been effectively employed twice in recent history, according to the Washington Post — a Polis representative told BuzzFeed it was just one option currently under consideration by the congressman in his plan to move the legislation forward. 

The changes Polis made to ENDA narrow the extent to which faith-based organizations can disregard the bill's prohibitions on firing, refusing to hire, or declining to promote LGBT people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The resolution requires sexual orientation and gender identity be treated like any other suspect class protected in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Polis resolution appears aimed at ensuring that the strong protections enshrined in the Civil Rights Act — reinforced and expanded upon by ENDA — are not undermined by religious corporations, associations, schools, or societies that claim to have a religiously based opposition to homosexuality, transgender people, or same-sex marriage. 

"Such organizations are not exempt from the requirements of this Act to refrain from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in the same manner as is required with respect to discrimination based on race, color, sex, and national origin under such title," reads the resolution.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby, LGBT groups have become increasingly critical of the religious exemption language in the ENDA version passed by the Senate in November and set to be considered by the House. Earlier this month, eight major LGBT groups formally dropped their support for ENDA, citing what they believe were overly broad exemptions for religious organizations to ignore the bill's protections for LGBT employees. Notably, several prominent national LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality, and Freedom to Work, are standing by the legislation, while still requesting that the religious exemption be narrowed. 

The first organization to announce that it was rescinding its support, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, did address Polis's changes in a statement on Wednesday. 

"Thank you Congressman Polis for listening and acting on our deeply held concerns," said Task Force executive director Rea Carey. "We are extremely pleased to see a revised version of ENDA emerge in the U.S. House with both strong protections for LGBT employees and new reasonable religious exemption language that we have been calling for — treating LGBT people the same as other protected classes. LGBT people need strong protections from discrimination; we have waited too long for anything less. Legal equality is legal equality, and now that President Obama has signed the LGBT federal contractor and federal employee executive order, it’s time for Congress to finish the job and pass legislation that would protect all LGBT workers from discrimination. We urge law makers to seize this moment to create long-lasting change." 

Tags: ENDA, Jared Polis

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