Ryan made the remarks in response to a question from the Washington Blade on whether he’d allow the Equality Act to come up for a vote given his vote in 2007 for a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“I’m a regular order guy,” Ryan said. “My position has not changed. I’m a regular order guy. You got to get bills out of committee to get them to the floor.”
Ryan’s deference to the committee of jurisdiction, which is a typical response to a question he receives on just about on any legislation, comes in the month after one member of his caucus, Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), became the first Republican in the U.S. House to co-sponsor the legislation.
In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) became the first Republican U.S. senator to co-sponsor the bill in the following week.
The Equality Act, introduced in July by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate, would amend the Civil Right Act and Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in all areas of civil rights law.
Given the breadth of the legislation, the Equality Act has been referred to five committees in the House: the Judiciary Committee, the Committee on Education & the Workforce, the Financial Services Committee, the Oversight & Government Reform Committee and the Committee on House Administration. The Blade has placed a call in each of the committees in the aftermath of Ryan’s comment to ask if any movement on the Equality Act is forthcoming.
In 2007, Ryan was one of 35 Republicans to vote “yes” on a version of ENDA that would have prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity. However, Ryan also voted for the motion to recommit on the legislation beforehand, which would have killed the bill.
Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), took a jab at Ryan for delegating his authority on the Equality Act to committee.
“Speaker Ryan’s comments constitute an excuse not a reason,” Hammill said. “The bipartisan Equality Act has significant support in the Congress and it is disappointing that Speaker Ryan would seek to hide behind his committee chairmen instead of taking leadership in the fight against LGBT discrimination.”
Richard Luchette, a Cicilline spokesperson, soid his boss “supports following regular order and the committee process” for the Equality Act.
“The Equality Act has the support of 171 Democrats; only one Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor,” Luchette said. “There is a lot of work to do to bring rank-and-file Republicans around on this legislation, but Congressman Cicilline is going to continue reaching across the aisle to build support and keep fighting until the Equality Act becomes law.”
Given Republican control of Congress, forward movement on the Equality Act at this time would be unlikely. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Last year, the House approved an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination amendment as part of a housing and transportation spending bill. The measure passed with support of more than 60 Republicans.
During an interview with the Blade in January, Human Rights Campaign said Chad Griffin gave an unequivocal “no” when asked if he thought the Equality Act could become law this Congress, citing the intransigent opposition of Republicans in Congress.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said Ryan’s non-answer is actually a cloud with a silver-lining for the Equality Act.
“Parsing his statement, what Speaker Ryan is saying here is that he would not hold up a vote on the Equality Act should it follow the regular order process of coming to a vote — and I’m glad he said that, as regular order would allow the Equality Act to be significantly amended, as it needs to be, in order to pass in this Republican-controlled House.” Angelo said.
Asked how the Equality Act should be amended, Angelo said his organization has a “long-standing opposition” to the bill based on “the fact that it is too broad, contains no religious exemption whatsoever, and includes portions that are not germane to the issue of LGBT equality.”
The Equality Act, in fact, has a religious exemption that is the same as the religious exemption for protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, the Equality Act would add gender to the protected classes under the public accommodations portions of existing civil rights law.