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Progressive lawmakers call on Pelosi to move on ENDA

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are circulating among U.S. House members a letter intended to encourage U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move forward with legislation barring job discrimination against LGBT people.

The letter obtained by the Blade, which a Democratic aide said isn’t yet final, urges Pelosi to work to pass Employment Non-Discrimination Act on the basis that it would contribute to her stated goal of creating and protecting American jobs.

“Now is a dire time for the American worker and we believe, H.R. 3017, the Employee Nondiscrimination Act is a vital piece in our economic recovery,” the draft letter states. “With the support of the Democratic leadership and the demonstrated commitment of the Administration, we believe this Congress will finally shut the door on employee discrimination.”

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, already have their names on the letter.  Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker, also has signed his name. He’s a member of the House Education & Labor Committee, where ENDA currently sits.

The letter cites analysis conducted by the Williams Institute showing “a persistent and unacceptable trend” of job discrimination against LGBT people. Additionally, the letter says ENDA is particularly necessary as the nation copes with high unemployment.

“Already struggling with an unemployment rate of over 9 percent, the American worker should not need to contend with an employer’s personal discomfort or bias against the sexual orientation or gender identity of an employee,” the letter states.

The letter maintains that ENDA will put LGBT people “on an even footing with every other employee” and that “turning a blind eye to harassment and discrimination against the LGBT community has too long been a stain on our otherwise proud record of worker protection.”

Whether Pelosi will schedule ENDA for a floor vote by the end of this year remains to be seen. She has said ENDA is a personal priority, but also that she wouldn’t bring the legislation up for a vote until legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is complete.

Download a PDF copy of the draft letter here. The text of the letter in its entirety follows:

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House
US House of Representatives
H 232, the Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Madam Speaker:

Members of the Progressive Caucus thank you for unrelenting support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and for making American jobs a top priority
for the 111th Congress. Now is a dire time for the American worker and we believe, H.R. 3017, the Employee Nondiscrimination Act is a vital piece in our economic recovery. With the support of the Democratic leadership and the demonstrated commitment of the Administration, we
believe this Congress will finally shut the door on employee discrimination.

For nearly 20 years progressive members of Congress have been fighting to end discrimination and create a fair and equitable workplace for the LGBT community. In a metaanalysis conducted by the Williams Institute, statistics revealed a persistent and unacceptable trend towards open harassment, unfair hiring practices, unwarranted firings and unequal pay. As a caucus concerned with open-minded and progressive views, we take exception to this blatant
mistreatment.

As our economy works to recover, now seems the right time to thrust the American workforce into the 21st century with legislation that addresses discriminatory workplace
practices. Already struggling with an unemployment rate of over 9 percent, the American worker should not need to contend with an employer’s personal discomfort or bias against the sexual orientation or gender identity of an employee. States that have adopted anti-discrimination laws report higher employee satisfaction and company morale. Unfortunately, there are only 20 states and the District of Columbia with these policies in place and 12 that also encompass the
transgender community.

Employment, promotions and retention should be based on merit and merit alone. For the individual this means a safe and productive work environment where there is a focus on
results not a preoccupation with their choice in partner or gender identity. Employers, too, should set their sights on an egalitarian workplace that encourages a sense of community and teamwork. In fact, 94 percent of Fortune 100 companies have antidiscrimination policies protecting lesbian
and gay employees and 60 percent protect transgender employees. The best companies hire, promote and retain the best talent, all of which is only made possible by creating a supportive and accepting environment.

ENDA will put the LGBT community on an even footing with every other employee. Turning a blind eye to harassment and discrimination against the LGBT community has too long
been a stain on our otherwise proud record of worker protection. It is imperative to shine a light on this issue and add yet another achievement to this exceptionally accomplished Congress.

We look forward to working with you and to enact ENDA in the 111th Congress.

Sincerely,

_________________________
Raul Grijalva, CPC Co-Chair

_________________________

Lynn Woolsey, CPC Co-Chair

______________________
Jared Polis, CPC Member

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Amendment to weaken Respect for Marriage Act targets D.C.

Norton calls measure by Utah Sen. Lee ‘attack’ on LGBTQ residents

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U.S. Sen. Mike Lee seeks to weaken the Respect for Marriage Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton released a statement on Thursday disclosing that an amendment introduced by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to weaken the Respect for Marriage Act includes little-noticed language that would prohibit D.C. from enforcing laws protecting same-sex couples from discrimination.

Norton’s statement came one day after 12 GOP senators joined all 50 Democratic senators to approve a procedural motion known as cloture to block a filibuster and allow the Respect for Marriage Act to come up for a full Senate vote.

The act, which was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year, would enshrine marriage equality into federal law, preventing states from banning same-sex marriage if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses its historic 2015 Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Lee, who is among the Republican senators who opposes the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced his amendment on Nov. 16 shortly before the cloture motion was approved by a 62 to 37 vote. He was expected to introduce it again at the time the Respect for Marriage Act came up for a final vote on the Senate floor, which Capitol Hill observers say could take place this week.

Norton said she has called on the Senate to reject the Lee amendment. A spokesperson for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), one of the lead sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, said no action was taken on the amendment on Wednesday, Nov. 16, and it was expected to receive little or no support if Lee were to introduce it again.

“Specifically, the amendment would prohibit D.C. from taking certain adverse actions, such as denying grants or contracts, against individuals and entities that otherwise unlawfully discriminate against same-sex couples if such individuals or entities have a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is a union of individuals of the opposite sex,” Norton said in her statement.

“While the amendment is framed as prohibiting the federal government from taking adverse action for violations of federal law, it defines the term federal government and federal law to include the D.C. government and D.C. law, respectively,” Norton said.

“This amendment is an attack on all LGBTQ+ Americans, but it also uniquely attacks D.C.’s LGBTQ+ residents,” said Norton in her statement. “Senator Mike Lee, who professes to support local control of local affairs, regularly tries to use Congress’ undemocratic power over D.C. to interfere in D.C.’s local affairs,” she said. “I have defeated all his prior attempts to interfere in D.C.’s local affairs, and I will defeat this one, too.”

In his own statement released on Nov. 16, Lee says the religious protections added to the Respect for Marriage Act as a bipartisan compromise among Senate Democrats and several key Republican senators, including Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), were “severely anemic and largely illusory.”

Lee said in his statement that supporters of the bill were misleading the public by claiming it would merely codify in federal law the Obergefell Supreme Court ruling.

“Religious Americans will be subject to potentially ruinous litigation, while the tax-exempt status of certain charitable organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits will be threatened,” his statement says. “My amendment would have shored up these vulnerabilities. It is a shame it wasn’t included,” he said, referring to lack of support for a vote to take it up on Nov. 16.

Eli Rosen, a spokesperson for Baldwin, told the Blade on Thursday that a bipartisan coalition of both Democratic and Republican senators as well as religious leaders strongly dispute Lee’s claim that the current Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act will be harmful to religious organizations.

Rosen points out that religious universities and the Mormon Church are part of the coalition that supports the Senate’s changed version of the act, which was expected to be voted on Thursday or possibly shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday if the vote doesn’t take place this week. He noted that upon approval by the Senate, the measure would go back to the House, which was expected to approve the changes made to the House bill through the Senate compromise language.

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Cicilline joins clergy for rally in support of Respect for Marriage Act

Final U.S. Senate vote could take place Thursday

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U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I..) speaks during a rally in the Lower Senate Park on Nov. 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and member of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, joined multi-faith clergy for a rally on Thursday at the Lower Senate Park in support of the Respect for Marriage Act.

Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat who co-sponsored the U.S. House of Representative’s version of the legislation, which the lower chamber passed this summer, celebrated the U.S. Senate’s expected vote today to send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The congressman said that while faith has sometimes been misused as a cudgel to argue against same-sex marriage, “many people support marriage equality not despite their religious beliefs but rather because of them.”

“As a proud Jew, it’s part of my religious community and tradition,” Cicilline said. “We’re taught to heal the world and repair the broken world. I’m proud as a member of Congress and chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus to follow our Biblical command to pursue justice.”

Cicilline’s message about the personal significance of the protections offered by the Respect for Marriage Act was echoed by, among other speakers, Revs. Nicole Garcia, faith work director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Paul Raushenbush, president of the Interfaith Alliance.

Yesterday, a dozen Senate Republicans joined their 50 Democratic colleagues to support a procedural cloture vote, which advanced the Respect for Marriage Act to a floor vote by the full chamber.

Biden and a chorus of LGBTQ, civil rights, and legal advocacy organizations celebrated the GOP members’ support of the bill, which leadership in the House and Senate have made a major priority for Congress’s lame duck session.

The Respect for Marriage Act presents a rare area on which the deeply divided legislature has struck an agreement to pass a significant bipartisan bill.

The impetus behind the legislation was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which saw a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas in which he pledged to revisit the high court’s precedent-making rulings on other matters, including same-sex marriage.

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2022 Midterm Elections

Republicans gain control of the U.S. House

Narrow GOP majority could bode well for blocking anti-LGBTQ bills.

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U.S. Capitol
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Certainty over Republicans’ control of the U.S. House of Representatives crystalized on Tuesday, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fended off a bid for his position by fellow GOP Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.).

As the final votes from last week’s midterm elections continue to trickle in, by Wednesday evening it became clear that when the 118th Congress is seated in January, the legislature will be divided between the House and the U.S. Senate, where Democrats will either retain their 50-vote majority or win an extra seat, pending the results of Georgia’s runoff election in December.

It is the House, too, that will be divided, as the majority’s shift from blue to red was narrowly won, with only seven races whose results have not yet been tallied. Republicans’ control of the chamber comes with 218 seats, a feat they accomplished today. By 7:40 p.m. ET, Democrats had won 210 seats.

Leadership in both chambers has also been decided. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is poised to take over as House Speaker in January when the new Congress meets. McConnell, meanwhile, prevailed over a challenge for his Senate leadership by Scott, his Republican colleague.

“With a small Republican majority, we think there’s a greater chance of blocking anti-gay and anti-trans bills, which may now not even be brought up for a vote,” Geoff Wetrosky, campaign director for the Human Rights Campaign, told the Washington Blade by phone on Tuesday.

“Not only because of the composition of Congress, but also because last week’s election made clear that voters do not support this kind of extremism,” Wetrosky said.

Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, told the Blade by phone on Tuesday that “the first six months will be spent in internal warfare, but it’s clear that there won’t be anything positive coming out of the House for our community.”

There “very well may be negative bills,” Parker added, noting that with a slim majority in the lower chamber, there is unlikely to be much legislation, period.

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