The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination that has been repeatedly proposed in Congress for over 20 years, was considered for probably the last time ever this week. Wednesday evening, House Democrats attempted to attach a version of ENDA to the 2015 defense spending bill in the Rules Committee, but it was defeated by a 7-3 party-line vote with no debate.
The version, devised by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), stripped some religious exemptions from the version passed by the Senate last year. Polis was not present to vote on it, nor was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), one of eight Republican House sponsors of ENDA, but it doesn’t seem likely their presence would have shifted the outcome at all.
This is likely the bill’s last hurrah. In June, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of companies like Hobby Lobby exercising religious privileges as corporations, many LGBT groups abandoned support for ENDA because of its religious exemptions. Since then, they have been emphasizing the need for a more comprehensive approach to LGBT protections — in not only employment, but in housing, credit, and public accommodations as well.
Next week, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin will speak at the Center for American Progress about the need for an LGBT civil rights act that includes all of these protections. This new goal will likely leave ENDA, with its employment-only focus and exemptions allowing for religious discrimination to continue, in the dustbin of history.
It’s unlikely that any LGBT protections will advance in the next two years while Congress is under the control of Republicans, but a new focus on ideal legislation for truly protecting LGBT people from discrimination will allow for new opportunities to educate both lawmakers and the general public about the need for such laws.