House Expected to Vote on ENDA; Debate Transgender Issue

The U.S House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on H.R. 3685, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), after postponing a vote on the bill several times.

If passed, the bill would add "sexual orientation" to a list of federally protected classes under a 1964 act that prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Although churches and the military would be exempt, conservatives argue that the legislation would require Christian organizations and pro-family groups who teach about the sin of homosexuality to hire gays, thereby violating their constitutional rights.

"ENDA would take away Christians' and others' right to stand up for Biblical morality," said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth, in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, some gay rights groups have refused to back the most recent version of the bill due to the removal of an amendment that would include transgender workers.

However, a leading gay rights organization, The Human Rights Campaign, changed course Tuesday and decided to back the measure without the amendment to boost to bill supporters as a House vote nears.

The organization's president, Joe Solmonese, said the passage of the bill might pave the way for legislation that covers transgender workers.

"Sometimes with these sorts of complex and weighty legislative fights, the best way to move towards the ultimate piece of legislation you are looking for is to do it by degree," said the Solmonese.

On Wednesday, the House is expected to debate on but not actually vote on the transgender issue.

One conservative legal group was taken back by the sudden announcement of the bill's scheduled vote.

Liberty Counsel on Tuesday accused the House of trying to "sneak" in the legislation. In an alert posted on the group's website, the Fla.-based group urged its supporters to contact their representatives and key House leaders by phone or fax and ask them to oppose the bill.

"ENDA is a serious threat to Christians, business owners and non-profit groups," wrote Liberty Counsel. "It will lead to the criminalization of our beliefs."

The White House indicated last month that President George W. Bush would veto ENDA if it makes it to his desk. The administration calls the bill "inconsistent" with the right to free exercise of religion.