WASHINGTON -- At a time when gay rights groups are pulling their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act over its broad religious exemption, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that passing that bill is still better than nothing -- and that she has something up her sleeve to ease people's concerns.
During her weekly press briefing, Pelosi acknowledged the recent divide in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community over ENDA, which would ban workplace discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT rights groups have long backed the bill, but after last week's Supreme Court ruling granting certain religious employers the right to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception, some are jumping ship from ENDA, saying that its religious exemption goes too far and opens the door to blatant discrimination.
Pelosi said she understands people's concerns, but thinks it would still be a major victory if the House took up and passed the Senate-passed bill, given that it would lead to tens of millions of LGBT people having protections on the job.
"It's all about choices," she said. "When you're an advocate, 100 percent is your goal. When you have to make a vote, the bill that we have is the one that passed the Senate in a bipartisan way. I think that has a big value."
The California Democrat said there are "aspects of it I do not like" and that she plans to huddle with her caucus to gauge whether they still support action on the Senate bill. She also said she has a secret plan for addressing the bill's religious exemption, which goes far beyond the religious exemptions afforded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for characteristics like race, gender, religion or national origin.
"I'm not going to tell you my plan," Pelosi said with a laugh. "We're going to carefully review what the options are."
There's been some talk that House Democrats may bring up new ENDA legislation with a narrower religious exemption. That possibility is still under discussion.
For all the bickering over ENDA's religious exemption, the reality is that the bill has a slim chance of making it to the House floor this year. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he won't bring it up, and some LGBT groups are already looking to next year to restart the process. Still, Democrats don't want to keep the pressure off Republicans on the matter.
"Our Democratic votes are solid. I just want to get the Republican votes," Pelosi said, adding, "It always comes down to the same thing: the votes."