WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives today defeated the Hefley Amendment by a vote of 252 - 176. The amendment to the House Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill, which would have overturned President Clinton's May 28th executive order banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, is a serious setback to the Far Right's recent anti-gay legislative crusade.
"This vote reflected the values of our nation," President Clinton said, after the amendment was defeated. "The American people believe in fairness, not discrimination, and the Hefley amendment would have legitimized government sponsored discrimination against its own citizens based on their sexual orientation.
"It has always been the practice of this Administration to prohibit employment discrimination in the federal civilian workforce based on sexual orientation," Clinton added. "Most federal agencies and departments have taken actions to memorialize that policy. The Executive Order does no more than make that policy uniform across the federal government. It does not authorize affirmative action, or preferences, or special rights for anyone."
The vote signals that members of Congress may fear a backlash from voters who overwhelmingly believe discrimination against gay Americans is wrong, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"Today's vote was historic. For the first time in the history of this country, the U.S. House of Representatives voted that discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans is wrong," said HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch."Religious political groups and their Congressional allies overreached, and in the process, delivered our community a strong statement from Congress that they agree with most Americans and support protecting gay Americans from unfair discrimination."
"Republicans, Democrats, and independents in Congress did not want to add the official stamp of approval for anti-gay workplace discrimination in federal agencies. Most Americans adamantly oppose the Hefley Amendment and its goal of legalizing discrimination," said HRC political director Winnie Stachelberg. Birch and Stachelberg praised Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) for their leadership in defeating this amendment.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), was out-of-step with public opinion. A new poll released by HRC and conducted by the polling firm Penn, Schoen, and Berland shows 64 percent of Americans said they are against Congress overturning the executive order, compared to only 28 percent who support overturning the discrimination ban.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week reaffirms the HRC findings with 72 percent of the American public supporting President Clinton's Executive Order against anti-gay bias in federal agencies. An April, 1997 poll conducted for the Human Rights Campaign by the Tarrance Group, shows that 80 percent of the American public says that homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities. Before this executive order was issued, many federal agencies had their own separate policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
This often led to confusion amongst government workers as to whether or not they were protected. Contrary to the claims of the GOP leadership, this executive order helps clarify the law for government workers by bringing uniformity to existing anti-discrimination policies across the federal government. The order adds sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for which discrimination is already prohibited, i.e., race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and age.
In issuing the order, Clinton noted that this policy does not add any new enforcement rights, such as the ability of a civilian federal worker to appeal an anti-gay job discrimination case before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
"In what has been one of the most hostile climates against our community in recent memory, we are relieved that a basic sense of fairness and decency is finally prevailing," said NGLTF executive director Kerry Lobel. "This amendment was nothing but another tool to attack gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. It is our hope that defeat of the amendment will mark a return to addressing the truly important issues facing our country and a cessation of the spineless scapegoating that has become so popular of late."