What’s the LGBT status in Congress?

There are 27 LGBT-specific bills in Congress right now, but only a handful stand even a small chance of passage. How much do you know about what’s on the table?

Lisa Keen | Keen News Service lisakeen@mac.com



President Obama

FIRST VICTORY | President Obama signed the Hate Crimes Act into law last October.



It’s LGBT Pride Month and time to check your LGBT-IQ.

Only one question this year: Besides the measures on the House and Senate Defense authorization bills to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” name the other 25 LGBT-specific bills pending in Congress right now.

ENDA? Yes — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. That’s two: a bill in the House and one in the Senate. Both have had hearings but neither has had a committee vote.

Hate crimes? No — that passed last fall, attached to the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010. The president signed it into law on Oct. 28.

Repeal DOMA? Yes — that’s one bill, in the House, though it isn’t sponsored by the most veteran of Congress’ three openly gay members and has gone exactly nowhere since it was introduced last September. Not even a hearing. Not likely to go anywhere either, though it has 111 co-sponsors.

Ryan White? No — that’s not really an LGBT bill. It’s an HIV medical treatment funding bill. But it is of interest to the community and it, too, was signed into law last fall.

Twenty-three more to go… .

Give up? Don’t feel bad. Most people can’t name them. And most of these bills are going nowhere this year anyway.

But for those hoping to refine their LGBT-IQ during the month of June, here’s a quick primer, categorized by their proximity to passage:


Poised for passage

• “Don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal: Two individual stand-alone bills (one in the Senate, one in the House) to repeal the military’s policy excluding gays were introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn.

The full House, in considering a defense authorization bill, approved adding an amendment that put the repeal measure into the annual funding bill. The Senate Armed Services Committee put a similar amendment into its defense funding bill and then sent it to the full Senate.

Now, all eyes are on the full Senate, where Republicans are expected to try and sabotage the repeal measure or filibuster the entire funding bill. Then, the funding bill will go to a House-Senate conference committee where members must decide on one final version.

DADT repeal could be won or lost anywhere along the line, and most likely before August. But the way the measure is now written — requiring Pentagon certification before it can be implemented — it could be a failed effort even if it does pass Congress.


On the verge of a vote

• Employment Non-Discrimination (ENDA): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promises the House bill, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, will get a vote this year. But she won’t move the bill until DADT (see above) passes, and she can’t promise ENDA will pass.

Rumblings of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans in the press suggest some level of uneasiness around the inclusion of gender identity.

Republicans are expected to try and kill the bill, sponsored by gay Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., with scare tactics — like saying it will lead to cross-dressing teachers for kindergartners and men with beards wearing dresses to gain access to women’s restrooms.

Meanwhile, there are no promises in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not even mention the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., at the top of this month when outlining the work ahead.

• Domestic Partner Benefits/Obligations (aka DPBO): Both the Senate bill, sponsored by Lieberman, and the House bill, sponsored by lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., have passed committee and both have gotten two public nods from President Obama.

The House bill has 140 co-sponsors; the Senate one has 31. But they’re gathering dust waiting for their moments on the floor for two reasons: 1. The health care reform bill overshadowed everything until March of this year, and 2. There are unresolved issues about how to pay for the bills.

Until that happens — and it might — they’ll continue waiting in the wings while time runs out on this Congressional session.


Going nowhere this session


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

NO PROMISES | Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did not even mention ENDA earlier this month when outlining priorities for the Senate.



• Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries: This bill, introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wisc., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, has the same “pay for” issues as the Domestic Partner bill. But it has only 44 co-sponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate, and neither has passed committee.

• Respect for Marriage: Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is the only legislator in Congress to introduce a bill this session to seek repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The bill has a respectable 111 co-sponsors but is not as high a priority as DADT and ENDA or even DPBO among LGBT activists in Washington.

Plus, politically, it’s a tougher sell in a mid-term election year at a time when the latest poll (Gallup, in May) showed only 44 percent of the American public thinks gays should be able to marry.

There is no Senate counterpart and the bill has seen no action since being introduced last September.

• Every Child Deserves a Family: This bill, from Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., seeks to end discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the adoption of a child.

It has 26 co-sponsors, no Senate counterpart, and has seen no action since being introduced last October.

• Family Leave Insurance: This bill, also introduced by Rep. Stark, would expand the existing federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in a number of ways and, of particular interest to the LGBT community, enable employees to take leave in order to care for a domestic partner or child of a domestic partner.

The bill has only 35 co-sponsors, has no counterpart in the Senate, and has seen no action since being introduced in March of last year.

• Family and Medical Leave Inclusion: This bill, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., along with the three openly gay representatives in Congress, would also amend the FMLA but only for the purpose of enabling gay employees to take leave to care for “a same-sex spouse, domestic partner, parent-in-law, adult child, sibling or grandparent who has a serious health condition.”

The bill has 29 co-sponsors, no counterpart in the Senate, and has seen no action seen being introduced in April of last year.

• Uniting American Families: With immigration being such a hot issue these days, one would expect this legislation — introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Nadler — to have seen some action, but it hasn’t.

The House bill has 124 co-sponsors; the Senate bill 23.

Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held a hearing last June, and there was talk of including the measure as part of an overall immigration reform bill. But so far, nothing else has happened.

• Equal Rights for Health Care: This bill, introduced by Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics in the delivery of health care services or federally funded health research.

It has only 13 co-sponsors, no Senate counterpart, and has gone nowhere since being introduced in June 2009.


Gay Congressman Jared Polis

FIGHTING FOR THE STUDENTS | Gay Congressman Jared Polis has introduced a bill to protect LGBT students from discrimination. But prospects for its passage don’t look good.



• Freedom from Discrimination in Credit: Rep. Frank chairs the powerful House Financial Services Committee where this bill has sat quietly since being introduced by Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., with Frank and 75 co-sponsors.

It would amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in credit services.

There is no Senate counterpart and no movement in sight.

• Student Non-Discrimination: Rookie Congressman Jared Polis, D-Colo., who is both openly gay and a staunch advocate for education, introduced this bill in January 2010, seeking to prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

It has the support of 111 co-sponsors, including Reps. Frank and Baldwin. Its counterpart in the Senate was introduced by rookie Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and has 23 co-sponsors.

But neither bill is expected to see action this year.

• Safe Schools Improvement: Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., introduced this bill in the House to amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to collect data on and move to prevent bullying. It specifically identifies one form of bullying as targeting students based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. And it has 113 co-sponsors.

There was a push to include this as part of the Obama administration’s proposed reform of No Child Left Behind, but the proposal submitted by the president did not include it.

Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., introduced a similar bill in April, but it has only five co-sponsors.

There is no Senate counterpart and no action likely.

• Health Equity and Accountability: This bill, introduced by Rep. Donna Christiansen, D-Virgin Islands, seeks to have the Department of Health and Human Services collect data on health matters related to sexual orientation and a number of other characteristics, but it calls on HHS to develop a plan to eliminate disparities in health care on the basis of race, ethnicity, and primary language only.

It has 58 co-sponsors (including Rep. Baldwin), no Senate counterpart, and has seen no action since its introduction in June 2009.


Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin

PROTECTIONS FOR COUPLES | Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin sponsored the Domestic Partners Benefits/Obligations Act in the House.



• Equal Access to COBRA: COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, is a federal law that enables employees to keep their existing job-related health insurance coverage for themselves and their families for 18 months after they’ve lost their jobs.

This bill, from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would enable gay employees to continue their coverage for their domestic partners.
The bill, introduced in March 2010, has no co-sponsors, no counterpart in the House, and no prospects for this session of Congress.

Housing (three identical bills): In March, three legislators introduced three identical bills to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in real estate transactions and brokerage services.

The Fair and Inclusive Housing Rights from Rep. Nadler has two co-sponsors; the Housing Nondiscrimination Act from Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., has none, and the Housing Non-Discrimination Act from Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Penn., also has no co-sponsors.

Keep in mind: This primer expires when the 111th Congressional session adjourns at the end of this year. All bills left pending must be reintroduced and start down the political passage tracks all over again, from the top.

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice