WASHINGTON—The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a slew of gay rights groups on Tuesday announced they are withdrawing support for the Employee Non-Discrimination Act—popularly known as ENDA—because it includes an exemption for those with religious objections.
“Congress has no place giving religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT workers,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “We can no longer support a bill that treats LGBT discrimination as different and somehow more legitimate than other forms of discrimination.”
The move comes in response to Hobby Lobby's Supreme Court victory last week, in which the court ruled that closely held corporations can’t be forced to pay for abortifacient drugs in violation of their religious beliefs. Gay rights groups believe religiously affiliated employers would use the same legal basis to discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgendered workers.
In November, several Senate Republicans joined all Democrats to pass ENDA, which would put sexual orientation and gender identity on par with race, religion, and national origin. But the Republican-controlled House, under pressure from religious advocacy groups, refused to take up the legislation, saying the religious exemption was too vague.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the law would unfairly burden businesses and “even goes so far as to require employers at daycares, public schools, and Christian businesses to change their restroom and shower policies to accommodate men who dress like women and vice-versa.” Gay rights groups say those concerns are overblown.
Last month, President Barack Obama announced he would sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but he didn’t say whether it would include a religious exemption. Religious groups, taking that as a sign Obama was testing public response, composed a coalition letter asking Obama to “do the right thing” and include protections for religious objectors.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, on Tuesday told The Washington Post her group is pressing the White House to exclude a religious exemption: “The workplace is no place for discrimination of any kind and we’re very concerned about watching Hobby Lobby play out across the country.”
During Monday remarks on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed to “do something” legislatively about the Hobby Lobby decision.