ENDA Opponents Off To Slow Lobbying Start In 2013

ENDA Foes Off To Slow Start On Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON -- With the Employment Non-Discrimination Act expected to receive a vote this summer, supporters of the federal gay rights bill are lobbying to build momentum and seemingly outpacing their opponents in that effort.

At least 10 groups have registered to lobby on the bill this year, according to electronic disclosure filings with Congress. While those forms do not necessarily indicate a group's position on the issue, a look at past statements by these organizations indicate that pro-ENDA forces dominate so far.

Eight of these groups have lobbied on ENDA this year and have publicly supported the legislation: They are the American Association of University Women, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the Human Rights Campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and People for the American Way.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are the two members of the business community that have reported ENDA lobbying efforts so far in 2013. Nationwide's corporate policy includes protections from discrimination for employees based on sexual orientation, according to the Equality Forum.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's stance on the bill is unclear this year, as it has been in the past. According to a statement on the Chamber's website, the group had qualms about an early version of the failed 2007 ENDA legislation, but the issues were resolved by the time that bill came up for a vote.

Neither Nationwide nor the Chamber returned requests for comment.

In all of 2012, disclosure filings show that at least 24 groups lobbied on the bill, which would bar workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Still, there are groups advocating against ENDA that have not registered to lobby Congress on the issue.

The Family Research Council's advocacy arm, for example, recently launched a public campaign against ENDA and is soliciting signatures for a petition to be submitted to President Barack Obama and Congress.

"We believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are not appropriate characteristics for coverage under the civil rights laws," said Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.

Some groups that have lobbied Congress in opposition to the bill in the past, including the Christian Coalition of America and the Traditional Values Coalition, have yet to disclose lobbying efforts in 2013.

This disparity between pro- and anti-ENDA filings may be due to the House GOP leadership's inaction on the legislation so far this year. The Christian Coalition of America has yet to lobby on the bill this year because Republican leaders have yet to place it on the House agenda, according to Jim Backlin, vice president for legislative affairs at the coalition.

"I really doubt it's going to be brought up," he told The Huffington Post.

Backlin added that even if it does get a floor vote in the House, chances for passage are slim. "It doesn't have a chance in the House. It really doesn't," he said. "Not with this group of new freshman Republicans and sophomore Republicans."

If ENDA does pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Backlin said the Christian Coalition will add the bill to its lobbying efforts again.

From the business community, American Airlines, General Mills and the Chubb Corporation lobbied on ENDA in 2012, but have yet to report action on the issue this year.

LGBT and civil rights groups are keeping up their lobbying on the bill and say they are optimistic about its momentum. There are currently a record 53 co-sponsors of ENDA in the Senate.

"Millions of people across the country are waking up each morning terrified that when they walk into work, they might be fired simply because of who they are or who they love," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"We have crossed the magic line over 50, and we have strong momentum, headed toward 60 votes in the Senate this year," she added.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, whose group has been lobbying on this bill for the past 10 years, echoed Carey's optimism about ENDA's chances in the Senate and said she is less sure about prospects in the House.

"The House majority leadership is not sympathetic to ENDA or to our community," Keisling said. "I think we certainly know we have a majority of House members on our side. It's just a question of whether we can get it up for a vote."

Keisling emphasized the importance of federal legislation on this issue for the LGBT community. Even though certain states do provide protections for LGBT workers, she said employers are not always aware of the state laws.

"It really, really helps a lot when it's federal law," she said. "People just know about those more."

The ACLU, in addition to pushing for ENDA's passage, has been lobbying to limit the exemption for religious organizations, according to Ian Thompson, a legislative representative at the ACLU's Washington legislative office. "Something that we have been making the case for is ... before ENDA is ultimately passed, that the religious exemption in it should be appropriately narrowed," said Thompson.

Right now, the bill exempts religiously focused entities that are also exempt from the provisions on religious discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On the other hand, a religious exemption is not enough for the Family Research Council, according to Sprigg.

"I find it hard to imagine any way to write a religious exemption that would be broad enough to satisfy us or to bring us to support the bill," he said.

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