Republicans defeat special LGBT protections on House floor

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to reporters in the U.S.Capitol in Washington, U.S. May 19, 2016. | REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – Congressional Republicans on Thursday defeated by the narrowest of margins an amendment to a national defense authorization bill that would force civilian contractors to hire LGBT personnel as directed by President Barack Obama.

The amendment, advocated by Sean Patrick Maloney [D-N.Y.], the nation's first openly gay congressman, was defeated by a single vote, 213-212.

Victory for Republicans who didn't want to tie the defense authorization to a social issue and who also believe the president does not have the authority to amend lawn – the purview of Congress under the U.S. Constitution – seemed unlikely in the early tally of votes.

Earlier in the day, 217 Republicans indicated they planned to vote for the amendment, but a last minute effort from Republican leaders derailed the pro-LGBT amendment.

According to the Associated Press, Rep. Steve Russell [R-Okla.] "prowled among Republicans" asking for an additional two votes to defeat the amendment.

AP also claimed Democrats expressed a visceral level of outrage, shouting, "Shame! Shame!" at their Republican colleagues. Democrat majority leader and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] also shouted encouragements to her colleagues to vote down the authorization bill if the LGBT special protections were not added.

When the final vote was called for the amendment, 29 Republicans still joined Democrats in favor of adding the sexual orientation and gender identity language, but that left Maloney and his allies one vote short of the majority.

In 2014, President Obama issued an executive order amending two other executive orders from 1965 and 1969. Both of those, crafted by Presidents Johnson and Nixon, respectively, targeted national origin and sex-based discrimination. Those, however, were based directly on the 1964 Civil Rights Act which authorized the president to act. President Obama's amendments to those orders changed "sex, or national origin" to "sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin," creating a new law from an older one.

Under his order, federal contractors must be examined to ensure their company has policies in place that make homosexuals and transgenders a class protected from discrimination in hiring.

"They literally snatched discrimination from the jaws of equality," Maloney said after the vote.

At one point, the AP report said, Maloney was pleading with Republicans on their side of the aisle and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy [R-Calif.] told him to remove himself and return to his side of the aisle.

"I told him, 'What side am I supposed to stand on in support of equality?'" Maloney told AP. "It was disgraceful."

In a press conference after the vote, Pelosi blasted House Republicans for the attempt to "overturn President Obama's historic executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors." She said Republicans were supporting discrimination in the workplace and added she and other Democrats would uphold the president's view against "this reckless and discriminatory legislation."

According to the AP report, Republicans opposing the addition of the LGBT protections were pushing back against the president's addition of sexual orientation and gender identity because it afflicted the religious consciences of many federal contractors. They added that the religious liberties inherent in the Civil Rights Act prohibited the addition of the language.

Rep. Bill Flores [R-Texas] rejected Democrat charges that Republicans were a party of hate.

"There are some people who are emotional ... that's beyond the pale. They can say whatever they want to but that's beyond the pale," Flores told AP. "This country has a First Amendment that protects religious liberties, and that's all we were doing is protecting that."

Both sides in the debate accused one another of playing fast and loose with the $610 billion defense authorization bill, which Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has hinted might be vetoed because it shifts money away from "contingency operations" – warfighting – and provides $18 billion for new aircraft, additional troops, pay raises, and ship building.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan [R-Wisc.] said the pay raise for troops was well-deserved and the new equipment would help alleviate the "readiness crisis" facing the military. Under President Obama, the U.S. Army has shrunk to its smallest size since before World War II. The Air Force has also reported on its shrinking stockpile of munitions. Critics have also charged that, numerically, the number of ships in the U.S. Navy is now at virtually the same level it was before World War I – around 240 active ships.

Pelosi disagreed, calling the shift to troop and material support "budget gimmickry."

The defense authorization bill later passed by a vote of 277 to 147. Nine representatives did not vote.