Roll Call is reporting that House Democrats have started a whip count for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the legislation would make it illegal for private employers with more than 15 employees to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote employees simply based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious organizations and non-profit membership-only clubs are exempt from the bill.
The House cleared a version of the legislation in 2007 (that did not include protections for transgendered people) with a wide margin padded by support from 35 Republicans, but the bill died in the Senate. The current House bill, which does include gender protections, has 199 co-sponsors (including 6 Republicans), the Senate version — introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) — has attracted 45 co-sponsors (42 are Democrats, 2 independents, and the 2 Republicans Senators from Maine):
This time, Democratic leaders are committed to pursuing a discrimination ban that includes transgender people, lawmakers and staff said. And they believe that rapidly shifting politics surrounding gay rights, nudged along on the transgender issue by an aggressive lobbying campaign by advocates, will help them win the day. But the push faces resistance from a so-far-unknown number of Democrats, mostly from rural, socially conservative districts. Many of these lawmakers are eager to avoid what they consider a tough vote — pitting a sizable chunk of their constituency against base voters and wealthy donors — in an already challenging re-election environment.
The fact that the measure passed the House last Congress without the transgender provision “helps our Members understand that this is not toxic, because nobody that I know of lost any race because of it,” Frank said. “Secondly, we have done some education on the transgender issue, which we hadn’t done before.” Two years ago, he said, the matter was “too new.”
Proponents believe that ENDA has enough votes to pass in the House, but could run into trouble if Republicans introduce a motion to recommit that does not include protections for transgendered people. That would send the Democrats’ bill back to committee. DC Agenda reports that “supporters in the Senate don’t appear to have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster,” however. “With the 2010 congressional elections fast approaching, only two GOP senators have so far committed to vote for ENDA, making it essential for supporters to line up most of the 16 uncommitted Democrats to secure the bill’s passage in the Senate.”
During her weekly press conference yesterday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the vote in the House will happen “soon” after Education and Labor reports the bill out of committee. “I believe that it will be soon, and as soon as they are ready, Leader Hoyer and I agreed that it will come to the floor. So, I think it will be pretty soon,” she said.
For many, “soon” cannot come soon enough. Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-NY) first introduced a nondiscrimination bill that included employment protection based on sexual orientation in 1974. At that time, ENDA was seen as “an exotic cause.” Nearly two decades later, in 1996, it looked like a version of ENDA that did not include gender protections was set to pass Congress, but instead, it suffered “a nail-biter 49-50 defeat” in the Senate.
Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have policies to protect against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while nine states protect sexual orientation but exclude gender identity. At least 305 large corporations are also voluntarily providing equal rights and benefits to LGBT employees.