Last month, the United States Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that codifies federal anti-discrimination laws for workers to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Some opponents of the bill declared the bill's passage would be a slap in the face to religious liberty-Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council even went so far as to prognosticate that ENDA's passage would lead to an America in which "the homosexuals are brought out of the closet and Christians are driven into the closet." Nothing could be further from the truth. And regardless of one's beliefs about homosexuality (however removed from scientific truth that they may be), the message of Christ and His Golden Rule should compel all Americans to support employment protections for LGBT individuals.
Most Americans already do: a survey released in May by the Public Religion Research Institute revealed 73 percent of Americans favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian workers from employment discrimination. Running cross-tabs on the same poll shows 60 percent of Republicans support such protections, as well as majorities of every major religious group including white evangelical Protestants (59 percent), minority Protestants (61 percent), white mainline Protestants (75 percent), and Catholics (76 percent).
There's a reason 10 Republicans in the U.S. Senate stood up to support ENDA with their votes-and it wasn't because religious protections were absent. The religious protections as they exist in the bill are clear, clean, and strong, covering any faith-based non-profit institution exempted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And just to be sure liberals or those who disdain religion could not use ENDA as a litigious cudgel, GOP Senator Rob Portman introduced an amendment to ENDA preventing the federal government from taking punitive action against any faith-based institution exempted under the law. Chicken Little agitators prophesying churches stripped of tax-exempt status under ENDA are nothing more than fear-mongers.
The litany of "what if" scenarios proposed by opponents of ENDA aren't just implausible; they're untrue. We have 21 case studies from states that already have employment protection statutes for individuals based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity-some of which date back decades. To date not a single religious institution has been forced to change its beliefs or its doctrine in exchange for making the workforce more equal.
What's more: there hasn't been an explosion in litigation in the wake of statewide versions of ENDA passing. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in September that "found no indication that these laws have generated a significant amount of litigation."
We can have principled, thoughtful discussions on civil marriage equality-a debate far more contentious and rooted in religious definitions than something like employment non-discrimination should be. Rather than fight the law's passage, Christians would do well to rally around it, because if secular lawmakers and advocates pass ENDA, as they would like, the religious exemptions that currently exist in the bill would be shredded. In fact, they're already trying: prior to the bill's reintroduction in the House of Representatives this year, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center released a statement declaring they had "grave concerns with the religious exemption" in the bill.
Fighting non-discrimination for LGBT Americans is a losing battle. If you are a Christian who cares about religious liberty, supporting employment protections for LGBT individuals ensures both religious liberty and independent liberty are honored.