Leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to "usher" the passage of a non-discriminatory employment bill benefiting homosexuals if he was elected president, he said in a recent interview with a well-known gay magazine.
The Illinois senator listed passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and elimination of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy as the two actions he aims to take to help bolster the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, according to the The Advocate interview posted Thursday.
"I reasonably can see 'don't ask, don't tell' eliminated. I think that I can help usher through an Employment Non-Discrimination Act and sign it into law," Obama responded when asked what he plans to do for the LGBT community if elected.
He also vowed to work towards passing the "strongest possible bill" to help the LGBT community and claimed to be probably the most vocal presidential candidate on gay issues to the general audience in history.
But Obama's comment is likely to ruffle some feathers of prominent Christian conservative leaders who see the ENDA bill as infringing on religious liberty and putting the integrity of their faith-based ministries in jeopardy.
ENDA seeks to make it illegal for employers to make decisions on hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation. The bill, if passed, would add "sexual orientation" to a list of federally protected classes under a 1964 act that prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Outspoken ENDA opponent, Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr. of Hope Christian Church in the Washington, D.C. area, argued during an anti-ENDA press conference last fall that the bill would foster confusion in churches and its related programs.
Referencing his church's day care and aftercare program, Jackson said if ENDA passes, the children in the ministry would be sent "unclear signals" as Jackson preaches against homosexuality while a "radically different" message is sent by a church daycare employee.
Others raised questions on how human resource managers would apply the bill in the real world. They emphasized that someone can easily be identified as black, female or of a particular religion, but there is no way to identify someone's sexual orientation except by a confession by the individual.
As a result, it would be difficult to distinguish if a person was fired because of their poor performance or for their sexual identity.
"It (ENDA) is not needed, all that is needed is men and women to decide who they are and go to work everyday and do their job," stated the Rev. Rick Scarborough who heads Vision America – a grassroots movement to restore Christian values in society.
Christian leaders who oppose ENDA include Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues at Concerned Women for America; and Tony Perkins president of Family Research Council, among others.
Other policies that Obama said he supports in The Advocate interview include making federal benefits available to same-sex couples who have a civil union, and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that would force states that don't recognize same-sex "marriages" to legally acknowledge those that were performed in other states.
David Brody, a senior national correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, commented, "Obama has an appeal to some Evangelicals but too much pro-choice, pro-gay rights talk will turn them off…along with some of the African American vote."