Two controversial bills approved by the D.C. City Council last year, including one that bans discrimination against LGBT students attending religious schools, were scheduled to become law on May 2 following efforts by Republican members of Congress to kill them.
The Human Rights Amendment Act, which protects LGBT students from discrimination, and the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act cleared their 30 legislative day review by Congress on May 1, opening the way for them to take effect May 2.
The reproductive health measure prohibits employers from discriminating against employees solely on the basis of an employee’s personal reproductive health decision, including a decision to use contraceptives or to have an abortion.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday night voted 228 to 192 to “disapprove” of the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act mostly along partisan lines. The vote followed a heated debate in which D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) led the effort to defend the bill.
Both sides acknowledged that the vote was mostly symbolic because the Senate was not going to vote on the disapproval resolution before the congressional review period ended on Friday and President Obama had made it clear he would veto the resolution if it reached his desk.
For reasons not publicly disclosed, Republican leaders in the House decided not to schedule a vote either in committee or on the House floor for a separate disapproval resolution targeting the LGBT-related Human Rights Amendment Act.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) introduced a disapproval resolution for that bill on April 14, saying the D.C.-approved bill would infringe upon the rights of religious educational institutions such as Catholic University by forcing them to recognize student groups whose mission contradicted the school’s religious beliefs.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced an identical disapproval resolution targeting the Human Rights Amendment Act in March, but the GOP-controlled Senate never brought it up for a vote.
More than 20 national and local LGBT advocacy organizations joined a coalition of civil rights groups in opposing Republican-led efforts to kill both of the D.C. bills. LGBT advocates remained active in lobbying efforts to save the reproductive rights bill, even after attempts to kill the LGBT measure were dropped.
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall said it was important for LGBT groups to remain in solidarity with reproductive rights advocates and feminist groups that sought to save the reproductive rights measure from being overturned.
Norton and LGBT rights advocates disputed claims that the legislation would infringe on religious freedom. They pointed out that the law would not require religious schools to officially recognize or fund LGBT student groups, but would only require that they provide them with the same campus facilities and accommodations given to other student groups.
Among other things, the Human Rights Amendment Act repeals a provision in the D.C. Human Rights Act enacted by Congress in 1989 that exempts religious schools from having to comply with the Human Rights Act’s ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The provision is known as the Armstrong Amendment, which was written and introduced by then-Sen. William Armstrong (R-Colo.).
Thus on Saturday, for the first time in 26 years, D.C. officials will have the authority to fully enforce the Human Rights Act’s sexual orientation provision as they had prior to the passage of the Armstrong Amendment.
However, Norton noted in a statement on Friday that she expects GOP opponents of both the Human Rights Amendment Act and the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act to go after the two measures through the D.C. appropriations bill later this year.
Similar to past efforts by opponents of D.C. legislation, opponents of the two bills are expected to introduce amendments to the D.C. appropriations bill in late summer or early fall seeking to block funding for or to kill outright the two anti-discrimination laws.