Polis seeks to narrow ENDA’s religious exemption

Photo: Jared Polis. Credit: U.S. House of Representatives.

Photo: Jared Polis. Credit: U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Jared Polis sought to narrow the Employment Non-Discrimination Act’s religious exemption with a resolution quietly introduced Tuesday and referred to the House Committee on Rules.

Polis, the lead sponsor of ENDA in the House of Representatives, is attempting to rewrite the religious exemption to mirror that of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“Such organizations are not exempt from the requirements of this Act to refrain from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in the same manner as is required with respect to discrimination based on race, color, sex and national origin under such title,” the resolution states, which would apply to religious corporations, associations and educational institutions.

The move by the out Colorado Democrat comes as several LGBT-rights groups have pulled their support for ENDA over the bill’s religious exemption. Last month, Polis also introduced House Resolution 639 that would set the stage for a discharge petition and force the House to vote on ENDA if supporters of the petition garnered 218 signatures. 

Both attempts are not expected to secure the votes necessary to move forward in this Congress, but illustrate the rapid rate at which ENDA supporters have turned on the bill’s religious exemption. It is unclear how narrowing ENDA’s religious exemption could impact Republican support for the bill. Currently, eight House Republicans are cosponsors of the version of ENDA approved by the Senate last November. The Senate approved that bill with the support of 10 Republicans — the most Senate Republicans to ever vote for a piece of LGBT-rights legislation — in part due to the religious exemption. When the religious exemption was adopted with a 402-25 vote in 2007 as an amendment in the House proposed by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), it received the backing of not only Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin, but Republicans like John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) specifically cited the religious exemption when he became one of three Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee to vote in favor of ENDA last July.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and declined to broaden religious exemptions that existed in previous executive orders — a move pushed for by some faith leaders.

In a statement following the signing of that executive order, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hinted attempts would be made to narrow ENDA’s religious exemption.

“We must work to pass a strengthened Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have been blocking bipartisan legislation passed in the Senate from debate and amendment in the House,” Pelosi said. “Discrimination has no place in our nation – not in our workplaces, not in our schools, not in our society and not in our government.”

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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