July 10, 2014 at 5:39 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Pelosi hints at ‘plan’ for ENDA as supporters stand by bill
Nancy Pelosi, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, California, gay news, Washington Blade

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Senate version of ENDA is better than nothing. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After prominent LGBT advocacy groups withdrew their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act this week over its religious exemption, a number of other organizations and lawmakers who continue to support the bill are reasserting its potential to extend protections to LGBT workers.

During her weekly news conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested she was still on board with ENDA by insisting the Senate-passed version is better than nothing.

“When you’re an advocate, 100 percent is your goal,” Pelosi said. “When you have to make a vote, the bill that we have is one that passed the Senate in a bipartisan way. I think that has a big value, and if we were able to pass it, send it to the president and get it on his desk.”

Pelosi, considered a strong supporter of the LGBT community, wouldn’t explicitly say whether she would vote for ENDA, despite repeated questioning from the Washington Blade and the Huffington Post, but maintained she’s “in consultation” with members and LGBT advocates and hinted at a plan that she wouldn’t convey at this time.

“Do we want to give up on this?” Pelosi said. “Because we have some Republican co-sponsors on the bill, overwhelming sponsorship among the House Democrats. We have an opportunity there. Or we can go to a place where we might not have Republican co-sponsors without the clause.”

On Tuesday, five major legal groups that work on LGBT advocacy issues and the LGBT labor group Pride at Work announced they were withdrawing support for ENDA over the religious exemption as the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund announced it now opposes the bill.

The Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality and Freedom to Work still support the version pending before Congress, but said they welcome a narrower religious exemption.

But the withdrawal of support complicated the chances of passing a version of ENDA in the Republican-controlled House, which was already an uphill task. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he opposes the legislation.

Throughout her remarks, Pelosi acknowledged her objections to the religious exemption, calling it a “conscience clause” because she doesn’t know what to call language with which she doesn’t agree.

Like many others who’ve now expressed concerns about ENDA, Pelosi said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which allows closely held corporations to deny contraception coverage for religious reasons, had an impact on her thinking on ENDA.

“Before the court decision, I would say, I would have voted for the bill as I celebrated its passage in the United States Senate because it’s a giant step forward,” Pelosi said. “Again, not what we want, but what we could get passed, and that’s what legislation is.”

Pelosi also insisted that votes in the House Democratic caucus for ENDA without a religious exemption are present, so the only question is whether Republicans and the Senate can pass a revised bill.

“Our Democratic votes are solid with or without the clause, so I just want to get Republican votes right now, or else win the election and then have a bill, but you still have to deal with 60 votes in the Senate and that’s hard for people to understand, but that is the case,” Pelosi said.

Speaking about the religious exemption, Pelosi told the Blade she has a plan, but wasn’t in a position to convey at the moment any information about it.

“I have a plan,” Pelosi said. “I’m not going to tell you right now what it is, because this is really important to me.”

According to The Huffington Post, House Democrats have begun talks about reintroducing ENDA with a narrower religious exemption to appease LGBT groups that bolted from the bill. Sources have told the Blade about the possibility of attaching ENDA to an appropriations bill in the Senate for the House to pass as a larger package.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised Pelosi’s leadership on ENDA, saying he welcomes plans to push forward on LGBT protections.

“Leader Nancy Pelosi is an outstanding champion for LGBT Americans and it’s great that she and our allies in the House are creating plans to continue the fight against those narrow-minded politicians who are blocking LGBT workplace protections from getting a simple up or down vote in Congress,” Almeida said. “We want those plans to include a narrower religious exemption with absolutely no Hobby Lobby loopholes, and we want to keep pushing forward for a long overdue vote on LGBT workplace protections.”

Other supporters of ENDA are reasserting the importance of the legislation, despite the withdrawal of support from LGBT advocates.

In a statement to the Blade, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only openly LGBT member of the U.S. Senate, emphatically said she remains a supporter of ENDA and will continue to fight for its passage.

“I’ve been fighting this fight long enough to know that no bill is perfect, but we found common ground to prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans simply because of who they are or who they love,” Baldwin said. “Every American deserves the freedom to work free of discrimination and I will continue to call on the House to put progress ahead of politics and give the Senate-passed ENDA bill an up or down vote because this legislation provides workplace protections that millions of LGBT people deserve and need today.”

Spokespersons for Republicans Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), who voted for the bill in the Senate, also maintained they continue to support the bill. The office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) didn’t respond to a request to comment.

“Sen. Kirk has consistently been a vocal supporter of the LGBT community and will continue to back ENDA and the protections it affords countless Americans,” said Danielle Varallo, a Kirk spokesperson.

On Wednesday, the Third Way, a centrist group that supports the advancement of LGBT rights, delivered an advance copy of a memo to the Blade titled, “Don’t Abandon ENDA,” which urges advocates not to reject the legislation over the religious exemption. It’s written by Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Third Way’s director of social policy and politics; and Sarah Trumble, Third Way’s policy counsel.

“While it is understandable that many Americans — gay and straight — feel worried about the right wing’s ever-expanding claims to opt out of laws based on religious liberty, ENDA’s religious exemption is not the problem, and abandoning ENDA in order to protest it is not the solution,” the memo states.

According to the memo, whether or not ENDA contains a religious exemption, religious organizations could still discriminate against LGBT workers if the organization deems they violated a tenet of the organization’s religion because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion. That means a religious organization could terminate for religious reasons a male employee if he decided to date or marry another man, the memo says.

“It is unlikely a male gay janitor who worked for a religious organization would feel better if his employers fired him for deciding to openly date or marry another man than if they fired him for being gay,” the memo says. “While that difference matters, it is not enough to throw the ENDA baby out with the bathwater.”

Meanwhile, Pelosi said the continuing debate over whether there should be LGBT non-discrimination protections enshrined into law is baffling to her.

“I can’t even believe that it should even be necessary to still need such a bill, but it is, and in states where it exists, it has not had any of the consequences that Speaker Boehner has said — job killer, whatever, this, that and the other thing,” Pelosi said. “No. It has worked very well. We want it be a national law, and so we’re going to carefully review what the options are.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • “According to the memo, whether or not ENDA contains a religious exemption, religious organizations could still discriminate against LGBT workers if the organization deems they violated a tenet of the organization’s religion because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion. That means a religious organization could terminate for religious reasons a male employee if he decided to date or marry another man, the memo says. ”
    Hmmm. I think it’s safe to say that scary memo is Third Way’s ‘money shot’ for LGBT donors. Plus “let’s keep the LGBT-donors-in-line for Dems, HRC, etcetera, etcetera. ROTFL!
    Hey, WTF are you ungrateful LGBTs complaining about?!?!
    We’ve got ‘support ENDA’ letters all ready to go out for our various 2014 campaigns! Dems or progressive GOPs… it doesn’t really matter. If you’ve have a donation check, we’ve got a group custom-made for all LGBT donors– even Log Cabin-ers!
    Don’t you understand? ENDA is our cash cow for the ’14 election cycle. And it’s ALL for YOUR benefit, donchyaknow. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
    Whatever you LGBTs think you should do– now is not the ‘right time’ to go asking the Congress for the full panoply of rights recognized for other minorities under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
    Move along. There’s nothing to see in that law, except real scary stuff. We hear that if you demand Title VII rights, it will threaten Marriage Equality itself. Do you ingrates want to be responsible for that?
    Do NOT trust your lyin’ eyes! Our Third Way policy lawyers know way better about this stuff than you inexperienced LGBT voters.
    Besides, we gave you DADT repeal… and now, you almost have Marriage Equality. Why are you LGBT folks still so uppity?
    Look. Just wait a little while longer, until you see our direct mail campaign for ENDA. We’re all sure you’ll want to continue your generosity to our common causes.

    • I have no doubt our enemies are more happy to see us at odds with each other over this legislation since we do a nice enough job of derailing the legislation on our own.

      If they really thought the religious exemption in Hobby Lobby wins the day for them, then why would Boehner hold up a fair up and down vote in the House? Another rallying cry for donors or actually fear they would lose with any form of ENDA as law?

      Nothing stops the religious conservatives from going to court if ENDA becomes law to claim that it does not apply to them or their group based on this ruling. More litigation and an endless cultural war. But hey, at least we aren’t being put into jail by corrupt homophobic police and beaten like in Russia. Trying to say that barring gays from discrimination at work infringes on religious liberty is a tough case to make if you’re in a secular business.

  • If Pelosi is such a strong supporter of this bill, she should have done more to get it on the House floor for a vote while she was Speaker. Had she and Reid acted back then we may have had ENDA as law by now. Instead They squandered the opportunity, making endless excuses why they couldn’t vote on the bill, on the pretext that after the election that lose them control they would be able to focus on it. You can never and should never take anything for granted.

    Pelosi and Reid let us down when they had the most opportunity to act on this important legislation with lip service and I won’t forget it. Now under Boehner the bill can’t even get a free standing fair up and down vote. It’s being held hostage.

  • This Botox-faced monster has a secret plan for ENDA so awesome she can't tell us about? I call bullshit. Pelosi is a two-faced LIAR who will say anything to get LGBTs cheer for the Democrats. Remember when she promised to lead the impeachment of Bush if we just voted for Democrats in 2006? SHE IS A PROVEN LIAR. And what makes me most sad is how so many fags and dykes will fall for her lies yet again because she's a Democrat. It's no wonder queer youth are killing themselves. Look at what passive bitches queer adults in this country are.

    • I’m not pleased with Pelosi’s record on ENDA but it’s better than the GOP record on it! Politicians typically lie. At least we ended DADT and got Hate Crimes Protections while she was in control. Her excuses on ENDA not coming up for a vote were lame and inexcusable. But gays like Barney Frank aided and abetted and Transgender people opposed the bill when they weren’t included in it.

      It’s not like we have much choice other than to work with the people in power and try to make the best of it.

      I hardly think queers are passive bitches though. A people united in a common cause can be a formidable force. Stonewall riots weren’t lead by passive bitches. The assassination of Harvey Milk and unjust verdict for his murderer brought us out in the streets to riot against the police. Groups like ACT UP proved that when push comes to shove we will be as aggressive as it takes to survive when elected officials and the medical establishments refuses to take action to save our lives.

      Make no mistake that it’s our tenacity and refusal to give up that has resulted in all we’ve achieved thus far. It’s bullying, lack of support and a sense of being alone without hope that contributes to gays committing suicide. It actually takes a lot of courage to be openly queer and keep going despite everything in your world against you.

  • We all need to call our members of the House AND Speaker Boehner's office at 202-224-3121 and tell them to pass ENDA now.

    Our community needs to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Millions of people would be protected from job discrimination by THIS VERSION of ENDA. Should those millions of us without protection in 29 states be left behind in pursuit of something better — something which is even less likely to come until ENDA has first become the law of the land? Should the 1964 Civil Rights Act have been blocked because it didn't protect against age discrimination, or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, or because it didn't include the Americans with Disabilities Act? No, its passage made those later advances possible.

    On health care, should there have been no health care reform at all without a single payer system, or without a public option? Should we have just left millions of people with pre-existing conditions vulnerable and uninsured and open to bankruptcy if they got sick, just because we could pass a good bill, but not a perfect bill?

    An all-or-nothing ideological mentality is our greatest adversary here. There are well-intentioned people who insist that NO law is better than a law that would protect millions of LGBT Americans. Generally, these are the misguided folks who end up leaving everyone behind in the name of leaving no one behind.

    The time has come to pass ENDA with broad bipartisan support. Religious liberty and equal rights are twin values that go together. It's time to protect millions of LGBT Americans from unfair job discrimination, and we CAN do it. Call Congress at 202-224-3121 and tell them to Pass ENDA Now. Just keep calling, and getting all your friends to call, until, finally, at long last, non-discrimination for our community is the law of the land.

    • Sloane, I understand the desire of many– especially that of transgenders– to pass THIS bad ENDA bill now– irrespective of the long-term cost to LGBT and ALL civil rights. But setting new and bad legislative *PRECEDENT* matters.
      Every civil rights lawyer understands the danger of making bad law a precedent for both courts and for future legislative action by civil rights opponents. It is bad civil rights legal precedent that is LGBT’s greatest adversary at this point in time.
      Republican lawyers, especially– whose majority is still generally opposed to recognizing LGBT civil rights on an equal footing with all other protected minorities under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act– see an opportunity here. That is why a number of Republicans are now happy to praise this bad ENDA bill, with its new, broad religious exemption. They are only too happy to codify discrimination– posing as religious belief– into any federal law.
      Non-discrimination protections for ALL LGBTs are best handled by first amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include LGBTs, using specific language. Then, other protections for housing, banking and credit, etc. can then be easily passed by Congress.
      This bad ENDA bill should never become law.

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