Gay Rights Groups Withdraw Support for ENDA Over Religious Exemption

LGBT activists
Participants carry a large rainbow flag toward the U.S. Capitol during an LGBT demonstration in Washington, Oct. 11, 2009. |

A group of organizations committed to LGBT rights have announced their pulling of support from the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act over its religious exemption.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center released a joint statement Tuesday expressing their opposition to ENDA.

Meant as a federal measure to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the current version of ENDA included a provision allowing religious organizations to be exempted from the proposed legislation.

"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," read the statement.

"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."

Ironically, critics of ENDA have argued that the religious exemption provision does not do enough to protect religious organizations who may hold moral objections to homosexuality or transgenderism.

David Christensen, vice president for Government Affairs at the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, told The Christian Post about his views on the ENDA exemption.

"The religious organization exemption in the Senate ENDA bill is very narrow to begin with. So it is incredible that some would drop support for even the narrow religious freedom protections under ENDA," said Christensen.

"The Hobby Lobby ruling rightly showed that federal law provides religious freedom protections for a broader group of religious employers, and these protections exist precisely to prevent the government from discriminating against those who live according to their religious beliefs."

Over the past couple decades Democrats in Congress have attempted to pass a version of the ENDA bill so as to expand federal government antidiscrimination legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The most recent version of the ENDA bill has gone the farthest in the political process, with the United States Senate passing the bill in a vote of 64 to 32 last November.

Opponents of ENDA have maintained the bill does not do enough to protect religious liberty, especially for employers who may hold moral objections to homosexuality and/or transgender identity.

Emily Hardman, spokesperson for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, provided The Christian Post with a statement after the bill passed the Senate regarding what the organization believed about ENDA's religious exemption.

"The Becket Fund is concerned about any law that does not provide robust religious liberty protections where they are warranted," read the statement. "The limited exemptions for certain religious organizations that we have seen in the ENDA draft under consideration are manifestly inadequate."

ENDA has stalled in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, however, with Speaker John Boehner stating that he does not plan to bring the legislation to the floor.

The joint statement against ENDA's religious exemption comes not long after President Barack Obama announced his plan to craft and sign an executive order barring businesses who have federal contracts to discriminate against LGBT employees. The White House has not indicated whether or not a religious exemption will be included in that executive order.

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