Religious freedom has become their battle cry. Those who refuse to provide commercial services to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders say it is a “religious liberty” issue. In February, the governor of Arizona vetoed a ‘license to discriminate’ bill. In contrast, Mississippi passed such a bill into law in April.
On the Federal level, the most recent incarnation of ENDA includes religious exemptions which are broader than similar exemptions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. These overly broad exemptions would allow not only churches, but also religiously affiliated institutions such as schools, hospitals, and charities to ignore the anti-discrimination order. LGBT employees of religious organizations could still lose their jobs, even jobs that do not have a religious function, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Advocates argue that ENDA would have little Republican support without these overly broad religious exemptions.
President Obama announced Monday that he would sign an executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors from workplace discrimination. Orrin Hatch has called for the same broad exemptions for the proposed Executive Order as are in the ENDA bill.
As someone who works at the state level to advocate for anti-discrimination legislation, I am among those worried by any acceptance or legitimizing of religious discrimination. Religious based bigotry causes a lot of harms to LGBT people. In states like Louisiana, with many hospitals which are religiously affiliated as well as any number of religiously affiliated elementary, high schools and colleges there are a large number of employees who could be at risk for discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
That being said, passage of ENDA will offer significant protections to a great deal of LGBT people. Employment non discrimination is a goal worth fighting for and something that a majority of American’s support. For those of us living in states without any state-wide protections against LGBT discrimination, having a Federal law will be a great leap forward.
I’m, therefore, taking the position of supporting the passage of ENDA while strongly opposing the overly broad religious exemption that have been attached to it. I understand some religious exemptions will be necessary and advocate for using the exemptions outlined in Title VII.
My sincere hope is that ENDA’s passage in this year’s session won’t include a blank check for continued religious discrimination.