Debate Over LGBT Discrimination at Federal Contractors Leads to Shouting Match on House Floor

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced the narrowly failed amendment that would have prevented federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced the narrowly failed amendment that would have prevented federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees. Seth Wenig/AP file photo

House Republicans were forced to deploy controversial tactics on Thursday to block an amendment that would have prevented federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

The amendment to the fiscal 2017 Veterans Affairs Department and military construction appropriations bill, introduced by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., initially received enough support to pass as the allotted time for the vote expired, but the time was extended to allow just enough Republicans to change their votes. The amendment ultimately failed 212-213.

Maloney reportedly introduced the amendment in response to a provision included in the defense authorization bill that federal contract recipients could not be discriminated against on a religious basis. Critics said that language would enable federal contractors to ignore an executive order President Obama signed in 2014 to prohibit the recipients from discriminating against LGBT employees.

Democrats on the House floor jeered and chanted “shame” as Republican lawmakers changed their votes from "yes" to "no." The vote came shortly after the House approved an amendment that would prohibit the Confederate flag from flying at federal cemeteries, an issue that held up the appropriations process last year.

Obama’s 2014 order expanded upon a memorandum issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 that prohibited federal contractors from discriminating “against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Some viewed that order as controversial, as it did not carve out an exception for religiously affiliated contractors. Instead, the White House pointed to an existing order issued by President George W. Bush -- which allows such contractors to consider an applicant’s religion when hiring -- as an adequate exemption for faith-based organizations.

"America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people," Obama said when signing the order.

The entire argument is largely a symbolic one, according to a group that represents hundreds of federal contractors.

“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this action is a proxy for pushing for broader legislation and not because there is any evidence of a particular problem among government contractors when it comes to equality of employment or job performance,” the Professional Services Council said in a statement at the time.

According to Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the Republican lawmakers who switched their votes were Reps. Jeff Denham, Calif.; Darrell Issa, Calif.; Bruce Poliquin, Maine; David Valadao, Calif.; Greg Walden, Ore.; Mimi Walters, Calif.; and David Young, Iowa.

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