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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 9, 2007

House passes ENDA

First time a sexual orientation job bias bill clears either chamber, but without transgender amendment

Washington, D.C.--Thirty-three years after such a measure was first introduced, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing job discrimination by sexual orientation on November 7.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed by a vote of 235 to 184 after a full afternoon of debate. All of Ohio’s Democrats voted for it, as did three of the state’s Republicans: Pat Tiberi of Genoa, David Hobson of Springfield, and Deborah Pryce of Columbus, who also spoke in favor of it.

House members applauded when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the final tally.

The measure came to the House floor after weeks of controversy within the LGBT community over Rep. Barney Frank’s September decision to remove gender identity, which had been in the ENDA introduced in the spring.

Debate began Wednesday after a Republican attempt to adjourn before the issue was brought to the floor.

The motion to adjourn had to be dealt with immediately under House rules, but the partisan attempt to shut down discussion failed.

The debate was held under rules established earlier in the week by the rules committee, giving an hour for discussion of the main bill, broken into half for each party. Those rules themselves were the frequent topic of the first two hours of discussion.

The three amendments presented were then given twenty minutes of debate each, including Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s amendment to restore gender identity. She withdrew the measure, however, before it was debated.

The other two amendments expanded exemptions for religious schools and institutions to match those of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and removed a prohibition against using marital status or the ability to get married as a condition of employment.

The final stretch to getting ENDA onto the House floor was filled with more wrangling inside the LGBT and progressive community.

The Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP, the National Education Association, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, among other organizations, signed a November 6 letter sent to representatives appealing to them to vote for ENDA as it stands, without protections for gender identity.

After Frank and the Democratic leadership in September pulled the version of the bill first introduced earlier this year, a coalition of 300 LGBT organizations from around the country called for transgender protections to be returned to the bill.

Frank, Democratic leaders and others pointed out that ENDA had not passed earlier without the transgender representation, and that including it in this year’s bill would almost certainly scuttle efforts to get it passed.

However, members of the Bush administration have said that if Congress passes ENDA, regardless of whether or not gender identity is protected, they would advise the president to veto it.

Throughout the controversy, HRC has walked a fine line, seemingly stepping back and forth across it. They first seemed to support the non-trans inclusive measure, then said that they neither supported nor opposed it, then finally signed this week’s letter calling for passage of the final bill without gender identity.

On the floor of the House of Representatives, however, bombast ruled the day, with opponents of the measure warning of lawsuits and courts forcing same-sex marriage on the states, despite a lack of any language on marriage in the bill.

Proponents of ENDA were no less vocal, with civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis of Georgia saying of anti-gay discrimination, “It is wrong. It is wrong. It is not right.”

He spoke of tearing down “signs that said ‘white’ and ‘colored’ ” in the 1960s, noting of ENDA, “It is the right thing to do, the moral thing to do. The time is always right to do right.”

Republican Rep. Deb Pryce of Columbus, a vocal supporter of the LGBT community, said, “Gay Americans currently hold the dubious distinction of being the only segment of our workforce that can overtly denied an opportunity to contribute to our economy and to earn a living.”

She continued, “The concept of ENDA, the fundamental American right to earn a living, should be a principle around which everyone in this chamber, regardless of party or ideology, should be eager to embrace.”

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it may have more difficulty passing.

Twenty states have passed similar laws--Ohio is not among them--and 13 of these include transgender people. About a fifth of Ohioans are covered by measures in 13 cities, including Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati--whose ordinance includes gender identity, as does Toledo’s.




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