Religious Exemptions or Not, Lobbying Continues for ENDA

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com July 10 2014 4:00 AM ET

While a series of major LGBT organizations announced this week that they would no longer support the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because of its religious exemptions, other groups are forging ahead with plans to rally as much support for the bill as possible.

The Human Rights Campaign, for example, confirmed it would not drop its support for ENDA with a short statement. "HRC supports ENDA because it will provide essential workplace protections to millions of LGBT people," said spokesman Fred Sainz on Tuesday.
 
The National Center for Transgender Equality is pressing on with its 2014 Transgender Lobby Day at the Capitol Monday and Tuesday, making the case for workplace protection and a modified version of ENDA "without the overly broad religious exemption."

Meanwhile, the ENDA-focused organization Freedom to Work hasn't stopped its effort to woo as many cosponsors as possible in the House, where Speaker Boehner refuses to bring it up for debate.

"Increasing the number of ENDA cosponsors this year increases our chances of getting a stronger civil rights bill introduced in Congress next year, and that means a comprehensive bill that includes LGBT protections in things like housing and education in addition to employment," says Christopher Berle of Freedom to Work.

The bill would require an employer with more than 15 workers to abide by a comprehensive nondiscrimination law that protects employees from being fired, not hired, not promoted, or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The legislation has been introduced in some form in every Congress but one since 1996. Last year, for the first time, the bill passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. In its current iteration, ENDA includes protections for transgender Americans, a once-controversial inclusion that nonetheless garnered "aye" votes from 10 Senate Republicans last November.

In the last three weeks, The Advocate has profiled 15 members of Congress from several conservative, liberal, and moderate districts, who activists say show interest in cosponsoring ENDA. Here are five more possible contenders for ENDA cosponsorship as this session heads into the summer and fall.

 

Rep. Leonard Lance
Republican, New Jersey
Lance cosponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2009, and approved reauthorization of the LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act. Lance notably told LGBT youth that "respect and acceptance will grow, day by day," in a 2011 It Gets Better video with fellow New Jersey Republicans Jon Runyan and Frank LoBiondo (who just announced that he will cosponsor ENDA).

In fact, Lance said he chose to take part in the video as a bipartisan effort against bullying in Congress "mirrors New Jersey's antibullying initiative signed into law" by a fellow Republican, Gov. Chris Christie. New Jersey also has state-level LGBT workplace protections and marriage equality.

"Representative Lance has a long history of engaging with advocates for LGBT fairness, dating back to his time in the New Jersey State Senate and that state's expansion of protections to include transgender employees," says Christian Berle of Freedom to Work.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen
Republican, New Jersey
New Jersey Republican Frelinghuysen has also already supported ENDA in 2007, and the state has its own policies to protect LGBT workers. He also voted for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as well as the LGBT-inclusive VAWA.

Berle says Freedom to Work is "hopeful he will add his name to the growing list of Republican members of Congress who support federal LGBT workplace protection."



Rep. Joe Heck
Republican, Nevada
In 2012, Heck called his state's debate over marriage equality a "distraction" from the nation's debt and deficit, only for his son to create his own distraction on Twitter, when he went on a sexist, racist, homophobic rant, for which the congressman later apologized. Though Heck is on the record as opposing marriage equality, he did vote for the LGBT-inclusive VAWA, and his own state already has protections for workers. In addition, fellow Republican Dean Heller voted in favor of the Senate version of ENDA in 2013, and GOP governor Brian Sandoval signed a state law that specifically protects transgender people.

"Representative Heck can look to the example of his state's Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, and Republican U.S. senator, Dean Heller, because both of them have backed laws to expand LGBT workplace protections," Berle says. "As a newer member of Congress, Heck is in a key position to stand on the right side of history and make sure all Americans can build a successful career without fears of discrimination."

Rep. Nick Rahall
Republican, West Virginia
All Rahall needs to do is look to his West Virginia colleagues in the Senate to see that he wouldn't be the lone Democrats to support ENDA.

"Both of the West Virginia senators, Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, voted for ENDA last fall, and their leadership has laid the foundation for Representative Rahall to be the latest House Democrat to cosponsor ENDA," Berle says. "Rahall has voted for pro-LGBT legislation in the past, and he has the opportunity to continue the legacy of West Virginians standing on the side basic fairness for all workers."

Rahall was among the first Democrats to sign on to the proposed 2013 Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have written a ban on same-sex marriage into the U.S. Constitution. Though he is a conservative Democrat, Rahall voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and supported both the LGBT-inclusive VAWA and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act .


Rep. Mike McIntyre
Democrat, North Carolina
McIntyre announced earlier this year that he will retire at the end of this term, so perhaps this might be the Democrat's last chance to support at least one major piece of pro-LGBT legislation.

"Representative McIntyre's record during his tenure in Congress is hugely out of step with the Democratic caucus in his hostility to the LGBT community," Berle says. "From his support for the anti-family Federal Marriage Amendment to his votes against the Matthew Shepard Act in 2009 and repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' in 2010, his record is one that will set him on the wrong side of history. If McIntyre has any interest in rectifying his past votes, he will join the overwhelming number of Democrats who support LGBT workplace protections."

Though McIntyre might be averse to the bill, several North Carolina-based employers are major supporters of their LGBT workers. He also can look to the example of one of his state's U.S. senators, Kay Hagan, who voted for ENDA in November.