The The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed the House Wednesday in a vote of 235-185 with 35 Republicans crossing over to support the bill. Republican representatives Michele Bachmann and John Kline were the only members of the Minnesota delegation to vote against the measure, which would make sexual orientation discrimination illegal in employment, exempting religious institutions.
Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad’s vote in support of the bill was a surprise as his record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues is mixed. Earlier this fall he voted against a bill to include sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes statutes. Democratic Rep. James Oberstar did not vote on the employment discrimination bill. He was absent due to a neck surgery but had previously indicated his support for the measure.
Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz were co-sponsors of a similar bill that would have included transgender workers. That bill was ditched in favor of one that stripped “gender identity” from employment protections after a poll of Democratic House members showed that the original bill would not succeed. That moved touched off a firestorm of debate within the LGBT community. More than 360 groups joined the United ENDA campaign to pressure Congress to reinstate protections for transgender workers.
No Minnesota groups were completely happy with the vote. OutFront Minnesota, a member of the United ENDA campaign had mixed feelings. “While an inclusive bill is not what we have been delivered, we are still very proud of the strong national momentum to stand up for our transgender brothers and sisters. This signals a milestone in our movement to include transgender people as full partners in the struggle for our equal rights,” Outfront said in a release Thursday. “OutFront Minnesota hopes that the legislation will be able to come before congress again in the near future, include gender identity in employment protections, and be signed by a new president.”
The Minnesota Family Council, an organization opposed to homosexuality, predictably criticized the bill. “ENDA will enshrine “sexual orientation” in federal law, providing activist judges with the legal ammunition to move toward the legalization of gay marriage,” Communications Director Chuck Darrell wrote. “ENDA is an attack on religious liberties and will expose business owners, schools and youth organizations like the Boy Scouts to legal attacks for seeking to uphold moral principles in their organizations and businesses.” The group called the religious protection built into the bill “vague,” protections the Bush White House helped craft.
The bill now moves to the Senate.