Metro Weekly

LGBT-rights groups withdraw support for ENDA

Photo: U.S. Capitol. Credit: Eric E Johnson/flickr.
Photo: U.S. Capitol. Credit: Eric E Johnson/flickr.

Several major LGBT-rights organizations pulled their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act Tuesday due to the bill’s religious exemption.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Transgender Law Center announced their decision in a joint statement released hours after the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force declared they too were pulling their support for ENDA as currently written.

“The provision in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that allows religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity has long been a source of significant concern to us,” the five organizations wrote. “Given the types of workplace discrimination we see increasingly against LGBT people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has become clear that the inclusion of this provision is no longer tenable. It would prevent ENDA from providing protections that LGBT people desperately need and would make very bad law with potential further negative effects. Therefore, we are announcing our withdrawal of support for the current version of ENDA.”

The organizations argue that ENDA, which was approved by the Senate last November, should not move forward in Congress until “the discriminatory exemption is removed so that anti-LGBT discrimination is treated the same as race, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information under federal workplace laws.”

“ENDA’s discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people. The provision essentially says that anti-LGBT discrimination is different – more acceptable and legitimate – than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex,” the groups state. “If ENDA were to pass and be signed into law with this provision, the most important federal law for the LGBT community in American history would leave too many jobs, and too many LGBT workers, without protection. Moreover, it actually might lessen non-discrimination protections now provided for LGBT people by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and very likely would generate confusion rather than clarity in federal law. Finally, such a discrimination provision in federal law likely would invite states and municipalities to follow the unequal federal lead. All of this is unacceptable.”

In a separate statement released earlier Tuesday, Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, announced her organization’s withdraw of support as well:

The morning after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, we all woke up in a changed and intensified landscape of broad religious exemptions being used as an excuse to discriminate. We are deeply concerned that ENDA’s broad exemption will be used as a similar license to discriminate across the country. We are concerned that these types of legal loopholes could negatively impact other issues affecting LGBT people and their families including marriage, access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and access to other reproductive health services. As one of the lead advocates on this bill for 20 years, we do not take this move lightly but we do take it unequivocally – we now oppose this version of ENDA because of its too-broad religious exemption. We cannot be complicit in writing such exemptions into federal law.

The campaign to create broad religious exemptions for employment protections repeats a pattern we’ve seen before in methodically undermining voting rights, women’s access to reproductive health and affirmative action. It is time for fair minded people to block this momentum, rather than help speed it into law. We need new federal non-discrimination legislation that contains a reasonable religious accommodation. LGBT people should have the same protections as those contained in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Legal equality is federal law.

The truth is that those who seek to deny full equality are succeeding by using religion to create a quasi-moral, completely legal mechanism to discriminate. We can’t let them succeed. We can’t let them ignore the vast majority of people — and millions of people of faith — who think that discrimination is completely immoral and should be completely illegal.

The announcements come after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week in the Hobby Lobby case, which found some religious employers can refuse to pay for insurance coverage of contraception under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, appears to have only fueled the growing clash over religious liberty and LGBT rights.  With President Barack Obama expected to sign one executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and another protecting transgender federal employees from discrimination, some faith leaders have called on Obama to include a religious exemption similar to ENDA’s in those executive actions. 

While the exodus of groups backing ENDA continues, the nation’s largest LGBT-rights organization appears to be standing behind ENDA in its current form. Asked to comment on today’s withdraw of support, Human Rights Campaign Vice President Fred Sainz wrote in an email, “HRC supports ENDA because it will provide essential workplace protections to millions of LGBT people.”

Although ENDA was not expected to be taken up by the House this session, removing the religious exemption could have dire consequences for the fate of the bill going forward. The religious exemption as written has a track record of success, particularly with Republican members of Congress. Indeed, last November ENDA passed the Senate with the support of 10 Republicans — the most Senate Republicans to ever vote for a piece of LGBT-rights legislation — in part due to the religious exemption. When the religious exemption was adopted with a 402-25 vote in 2007 as an amendment in the House proposed by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), it received the backing of not only Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin, but Republicans like John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan. 

“ENDA in its current form is a bipartisan compromise and one that passed the United States Senate with a strong bipartisan vote,” Drew Hammill, spokesperson for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, told Metro Weekly last month

Joint Statement on ENDA

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