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Ear to the Ground

ACLU, Gay Rights Groups Withdraw Support for ENDA

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Posted on Jul 8, 2014

It is currently legal in the majority of states to fire an employee for being gay. A bill meant to change that lost key allies Tuesday, including the ACLU, Lambda Legal and GLAD.

National gay rights groups object to a religious exemption in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

According to a joint statement released by the aforementioned advocacy groups, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center:

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.  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.

It seems that the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which recognizes the right of religious owners of businesses to opt out of paying for contraception coverage for their employees, may have exacerbated matters. Again, from the joint statement:

The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby has made it all the more important that we not accept this inappropriate provision. Because opponents of LGBT equality are already misreading that decision as having broadly endorsed rights to discriminate against others, we cannot accept a bill that sanctions discrimination and declares that discrimination against LGBT people is more acceptable than other kinds of discrimination.

Our ask is a simple one:  Do not give religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT people when they have no such right to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.  Religiously affiliated organizations are allowed to make hiring decisions based on their religion, but nothing in federal law authorizes discrimination by those organizations based on any other protected characteristic, and the rule should be the same for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  Religious organizations are free to choose their ministers or faith leaders, and adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression will not change that.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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