Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) on Wednesday signaled his support for the legislation, said LoBiondo spokesperson Jason Galanes. The news about the bill, which would prohibit employers from engaging in anti-LGBT job bias, was first reported by The Advocate.
Christian Berle, legislative director for the LGBT group Freedom to Work, heaped praise on LoBiondo, saying his organization has met with the lawmaker’s office about the legislation for more than a year.
“When I last discussed ENDA with Rep. LoBiondo, the congressman clearly understood the conservative case for giving LGBT Americans a fair shot to contribute to our economy,” Berle said. “Rep. LoBiondo is a strong conservative who understands that ENDA will simply follow the example already set by American’s top business leaders who long ago adopted LGBT workplace protections.”
The Senate already passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis late last year; LGBT advocates have been pushing for a vote in the Republican-controlled House. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he opposes ENDA when asked he’ll allow a floor vote on the bill.
In January, Boehner reportedly told the LGBT Equality Caucus a vote on ENDA would be highly unlikely before Election Day, but those in attendance at the meeting left with the impression a vote on the bill would possible in the lame duck session of Congress.
Meanwhile, a growing number of LGBT groups have expressed misgivings about ENDA’s religious exemption. This week, Equality California joined the organizations with those concerns, saying it supports ENDA, but it strongly opposes the broad religious exemption that has been attached to it.
Three national groups — GetEQUAL, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center — have gone so far as to say they won’t support ENDA with the current religious exemption in the bill. Meanwhile, major groups such as the Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force continue to support the legislation.
ENDA’s religious exemption would provide leeway for religious institutions, like churches or religious schools, to discriminate against LGBT workers in non-ministerial positions even if the bill were to become law. It’s broader than similar exemptions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for categories of race, gender, religion and national origin.
Following a event celebrating Pride at the Labor Department on Tuesday, gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told the Washington Blade he’s aware of concerns about the religious exemption, but believes the wording of the bill is necessary to move it forward.
“It’s fine within the movement to have groups because we want to keep our eye on the prize and everyone push in different ways,” Pocan said. “And it should be happening. I think it’s a good thing that there’s pushing from the outside. But my job is getting to 218 or more, and that’s why I think the bill that’s crafted allows to get that number of votes.”
Among the lawmakers whom Pocan said may require a expanded religious exemption to support ENDA is House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Although Ryan voted for a version of ENDA in 2007, Pocan said he spoke in the fall with the lawmaker and he expressed concerns about ensuring the freedom of religious organizations to continue that support.
“One of the questions that he brought up was how it affects religious organizations,” Pocan said. “So, the fact that it comes up a lot means in that equation — to get to 218 — it’s just a factor of what we have to look at. Ultimately, we want to make sure no one’s discriminated against, but first you have to be able to pass something.”
Also at event was Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. After the event, Silverman told the Blade wasn’t immediately able to offer his organization’s position on ENDA’s religious exemption, but expressed concerns about the language in remarks during the panel.
“There is no good reason that we should be subjected to a religious exemption any wider than what is subjected to any other group,” Silverman said. “We don’t need a special law just because it’s gay and transgender people.”
Last year prior to passage of ENDA in the Senate, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, stayed out the debate on ENDA’s religious exemption, deferring to Congress on being “able to find a balance that protects LGBT workers and religious liberty” in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade. A White House official said Monday that position remains unchanged.