Politics

How LGBT Job Protection Became the New Confederate Flag

Fight did not start with the Maloney amendment

An amendment preventing federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity has traveled a tumultuous road in the House over the past year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A year ago, debate over the Confederate flag shut down the congressional appropriations process . This year, minutes after the House seemed to put that issue to rest with a vote to lower the flag at federal cemeteries, a new firestorm began.  

An amendment to prevent federal contractors from making hiring decisions based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity roiled debate on the House floor last week and took down an entire spending bill on Thursday.  

[ Moral Victory on Confederate Flag, Painful Defeat on LGBT Protection ]  

Here's a look at how the LGBT controversy unfolded:  

July 2014: President Obama signs an executive order on July 21, 2014 banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  

June 2015:  The House adopts, 241-184 , an amendment offered by California Democratic Rep. Scott Peters on a transportation spending bill, to uphold Obama's executive order; 60 Republicans support it.  

April 2016: During a late night markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Committee adds an amendment  to provide protections and exemptions to "any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society" that receives a federal contract. Democrats argue that the amendment offered by Oklahoma GOP Rep. Steve Russell would undo Obama's executive order. The committee narrowly approves the amendment, 33-29 .  

May 16-18: With the defense bill headed to the Rules Committee in preparation for floor debate, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Charlie Dent offers an amendment to remove the Russell provision , but the Rules panel decides to not allow a vote on the amendment on the floor. The House passes the defense measure with the Russell provision included; it can still be removed when the House and Senate go to conference to reconcile their versions of the defense bill.  

May 19:  The House takes up a military construction and veterans appropriations measure. New York Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney offers an amendment to that bill to uphold Obama's LBGT anti-discrimination executive order. The amendment fails  by a single vote (212-213 ) after some Republicans changed their votes after time had expired . Only 29 Republicans vote for the amendment.  

May 25: Maloney and other Democrats vow to continue the fight . They do so the following week when Maloney offers the same amendment to an Energy and Water appropriations bill. Before voting on the amendment, the House adds a provision offered by Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Joe Pitts to ensure the discrimination ban would not run afoul of the Constitution. In a late-night vote, the Maloney amendment is adopted , 223-195 , with 43 Republicans supporting it.  

May 25: The House also adopts, 233-186 , an amendment offered by Alabama Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne that would ensure the provisions in the spending measure do not contradict existing religious protections. Byrne says Obama's executive order did not provide protections for religious-based organizations who engage in government contracting which makes his proposal a necessary counter to Maloney's amendment.  

May 25: Another amendment the House added to the Energy and Water measure seeks to prevent the Obama administration from blocking North Carolina from receiving federal funds in retaliation against its transgender bathroom law . The amendment, offered by Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., is adopted 227-192 .  

May 26: Many Republicans are upset that the Maloney amendment was included in the Energy and Water measure. During a GOP conference meeting the next morning, Georgia Rep. Rick W. Allen leads the opening prayer with a Bible verse that calls homosexuals "worthy of death." May 26:  That same morning, 130 Republicans and 175 Democrats vote against the Energy and Water spending bill , which fails, 112-305. Many Republicans cite the Maloney amendment as their reason for opposing the bill and blame Democrats for pushing for the adoption of the amendment but then voting against the larger measure.  

In the aftermath , Republicans are planning to discuss how to proceed with the amendment process on appropriations bills without derailing the entire operation. That may be a difficult balance to strike, especially since Maloney has said he does not plan to give up his fight for LGBT equality.    

Contact McPherson at lindseymcpherson@rollcall.com and follow her @lindsemcpherson .  

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