New Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Measure in Employee Non-Discrimination Act Will Threaten Religious Liberties, Says Family Research Council

President of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, has criticized an expansion of the Employee Anti-Discrimination Act.
President of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, has criticized an expansion of the Employee Anti-Discrimination Act. | (Photo: Reuters)

A Christian conservative political group has criticized a likely expansion of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council, a conservative Christian political lobby group, attacked the measure on Nov. 4, claiming it would "increase litigation, diminish religious liberty, and create a new federal mandate on businesses based on sexuality."

Perkins also asserted in a press release that "the law would not allow businesses, including schools and daycares, to take things into consideration when they think it is appropriate," and threatened not only the "free market but religious liberties as well."

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On Nov. 4, ENDA cleared a would-be obstacle when it passed a Senate procedural vote on the bill, 61-30, winning seven Republican votes. Should the bill move to the House, its status is less certain as House Speaker, John Boehner, has said he opposes the legislation, which he claims will hurt businesses.

"The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," spokesman Michael Steel said in an email on Monday.

The current legislation includes exemptions for churches and religious institutions but does not offer the same loophole for "corporation, association, educational institution or institution of learning, or society that is exempt from the religious discrimination provisions."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, whose son is openly gay, said that he was "inclined to support" the bill but told The Cincinnati Enquirer last week but that he was "still working on some of the religious liberty issues."

In the House, despite Boehner's disapproval, not all Republicans are on the same side as the Speaker. Last year's Vice Presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. for instance, backs the bill.

"They didn't roll out of bed one morning and choose to be gay. That's who they are," Ryan told reporters who asked him his stance in 2010; one that he recently reiterated again this year.

Nationwide, 26 states already have laws with workplace protections for LGBT employees. Within corporate America, the new ENDA policies will have little impact; 96 percent of Fortune 500 companies already have policies protecting workers.

In a September 2013 poll conducted by Republican pollster Alex Lundry and the Americans for Workplace Opportunity, 86 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement "everyone has a right to earn a living including gay, lesbian and transgender Americans and workers should be judged on the job they do nothing more, nothing less."

An additional 84 percent of Americans also argued that "companies should hire and fire based solely on a person's qualifications not quotas gay and transgender employees should have an equal opportunity to everyone else."

The ENDA expansion was originally considered in 1996 but died in the Senate. Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, expressed relief that the bill would be brought to a vote, calling it "a huge step forward, one too long in coming."

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