by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act), the legislation that was once at the core of the LGBT political agenda, is becoming a relic of a bygone era.
Since it was first introduced by Congress members Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Ed Koch (D-NY) in 1974, successive versions of the bill sought to ban discrimination against LGBT workers.
A version that excluded Transgender workers passed the House in 2007, but was never taken up by the Senate. A Trans-inclusive version passed the Senate in 2013, but was blocked by the Republican House leadership.
In the end, it was not legislative wrangling that made LGBT groups turn their backs on ENDA, but the bill's broad religious exemptions, once thought to be a compromise that would make the measure acceptable to Republicans. But the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case demonstrated the destructive effect of broad religious exemptions and made activists rethink their previous commitment to the measure.
Seven national LGBT groups pulled their support from the bill on July 8, citing concerns over its religious exemption language.
'The morning the sun rose after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, we all woke up in a changed and intensified landscape of religious exemptions being used as an excuse to discriminate,' National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey wrote in a statement.
'The reality is that while politics is about compromise, some compromises are too great. After much soul searching, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund has decided to withdraw its support for the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As one of the lead advocates on this bill for 20 years, we do not take this move lightly, but we do take it unequivocally - we now oppose this version of ENDA because of its too-broad religious exemption.'
Within hours of the NGLTF statement, the ACLU, Legal, GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders), the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center issued a joint statement also pulling support from ENDA.
'The provision in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that allows religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity has long been a source of significant concern to us,' the groups said.
'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. 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.'
By the end of the day, the groups were also joined by Pride At Work, the LGBT labor organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
'While we fully support strong protections for LGBT workers in the workplace, something that for many workers is currently only afforded by a union contract, after the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, it is clear that these broad religious exemptions would gut the intent and purpose of ENDA,' Pride at Work interim Executive Director Jerame Davis said.
'LGBT workers deserve strong, enforceable workplace protections and we look forward to supporting a bill to that end.'
If not ENDA, then what?
LGBT organizations did not have a ready answer for that question.
Some called for a new workplace non-discrimination bill without religious exemptions, or with exemptions limited only to places of worship. Others called for a comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill - similar to the state of Washington's LGBT protections - that would include housing, public accommodations, insurance, and credit as well as employment.
Still others took up the 'add the four words' strategy, calling for an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that would add protections for 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity.'
In any case, the possibility that any legal protection for LGBT rights would get past the resolutely anti-Gay Republican House leadership seems remote at this point. The real issue may be what language goes into the still-awaited executive order from President Obama barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.
HRC all alone
Of the major LGBT national organizations, only HRC did not reject ENDA.
On July 9, HRC President Chad Griffin issued a statement calling on Congress to both 'improve' the legislation and pass a more comprehensive bill.
'We call on our allies in Congress to improve [ENDA's] overly broad religious exemption,' Griffin wrote.
'[R]egardless of whether or not ENDA passes in this session of Congress, it is time for the LGBT movement to throw its weight behind a fully comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill. A bill that, at long last, would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all core civil rights categories - including housing, public accommodations, credit, education and, if ENDA fails to pass, in employment.
'This is a visionary idea that Congresswoman Bella Abzug brought to Congress in 1974. Its time has come. ... [W]e also can't ignore that somewhere in between the introduction of this version of ENDA and today, a revolution has happened in the fight for LGBT equality...We cannot and will not ignore the imperative of this moment.'
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