WASHINGTON (BP)–Language to protect transgendered individuals has been removed from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in an attempt to increase its chance of passage in the House of Representatives.
ENDA (H.R. 3685), sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank, D.-Mass., an openly homosexual man, would prohibit employer discrimination based upon “sexual orientation.” It would place “sexual orientation” in a category similar to race, gender and age, which are protected by federal civil rights law.
Under the current legislative language, Christian employers would not have the freedom to hire only those people who abstain from sexual practices they consider to be immoral.
“We will move forward with the ban on sexual orientation for which we finally — after thirty-plus years — have the votes,” Frank said in a written statement. The Committee on Education and Labor has to yet to act on the legislation.
The bill protects against discrimination based on either the “actual or perceived sexual orientation of the individual.” Although the legislation previously included protection for transgenders and transvestites, it now has a narrower focus on discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals.
Frank fears transgender protection would make the bill too radical to pass in the House.
“We do not have sufficient support in the House to include in that bill explicit protection for people who are transgender,” he said. His plan is to pass the legislation without the transgender language — following on the heels of the hate crimes provision recently approved by the Senate — and add a supplementary bill that would include transgenders later.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told White House officials such a bill would not be supported, even with the removal of the transgender language. “The overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists will still oppose an ENDA bill that expands in unprecedented ways protections for sexual preference or orientation,” Land said.
The removal of protection for transgendered individuals has not been well received among a variety of homosexual and transgender activists, who would rather the bill not be considered than to go forward without transgender protection.
The Human Rights Campaign and 18 other organizations that previously supported the bill before the transgender language was removed petitioned Rep. George Miller, D.-Calif., the chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, in an effort to stop the revised legislation dead in its tracks.
“Although we believe that [Frank] and the House Democratic Leadership have a sincere desire to protect the LGBT community from discrimination, we believe the process and strategy that has been adopted is a mistake,” said the letter to Miller.
The regulations stipulated by ENDA would not apply to religious organizations and the Armed Forces. However, the term “religious organizations” has not been fully defined. Land said he has been told Frank may be prepared to include churches as well as “institutions even tangentially religious” for exemptions from the measure.
If ENDA were to pass in both the House and Senate, Frank acknowledges President Bush would likely veto the bill.
“The vast majority of Southern Baptists will still be calling upon, and expecting, the president to veto this legislation if it comes to his desk,” Land said in his memo to the White House.
“Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality and bisexuality. “Gender identity” is a “person’s innate sense of gender,” which may be different than his sex, according to the website of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s leading homosexual activist organization. Transgender is an umbrella term for “people who live all or substantial portions of their lives expressing an innate sense of gender other than their birth sex,” according to HRC. The transgender category includes transsexuals and cross-dressers.
Erica Simons is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.