By Lisa Keen
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed a House committee today by a 27 to 21 vote, with four Republicans voting for it and four Democrats voting against it.
The “No” votes among Democrats were largely a product of the controversy over the omission of “gender identity” from the bill.
More than 280 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups waged an unprecedented campaign during the past two weeks to try and keep in the bill a prohibition on discrimination based on “gender identity.” They said such language was necessary to protect transgender people and to ensure that an employer could not discriminate against a gay person based on his or her appearance or mannerisms.
Republicans tried four times to weaken the bill with amendments Thursday. One amendment, for instance, sought to remove the word “perceived” from the bill, which states that an employer cannot discriminate based on an employee’s “actual or perceived sexual orientation.” Another sought to expand an exemption for “religious organizations” by extending it to organizations with a “faith-based mission.” All four failed along partisan lines, although two to three Republicans opposed all but the religious exemption.
Those amendments could surface again when the bill reaches the floor early next week, when the bill receives its historic first-ever vote before the full House. But floor consideration is expected to include prolonged debate over an amendment to be offered from Democrats. Openly gay U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.)
is scheduled to introduce an amendment to re-insert the “gender identity” language. Baldwin said Wednesday night that her vote counts indicate the gender identity amendment could pass, but she acknowledged the margin will likely be “razor, razor thin.”
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) vote count says the gender identity measure cannot pass. Frank triggered controversy in the LGBT community by offering a strategy to split this year’s original ENDA version into two bills -one with sexual orientation only and one with gender identity only. But Frank said he is supportive of the Baldwin Amendment and will speak for it on the floor next week.