Hobby Lobby ruling fuels drive for stronger LGBT rights bill

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President Barack Obama on July 21 signed an executive order aimed at protecting LGBT workers employed by the federal government and by federal contractors. The order did not contain broad religious exemptions such as those in the version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act pending in the House. — Photo: White House

Support for an LGBT civil rights bill that contains broad religious exemptions is dwindling following the Supreme Court ruling that corporations have religious beliefs and can impose them on their employees.

The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act contains broad religious exemptions that civil rights leaders fear will be abused, especially in light of the 5-4 ruling in the Hobby Lobby case against the contraception mandate in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A growing number of organizations have withdrawn support for the current bill and all of them have cited the religious exemption and the Hobby Lobby decision.

Those out of ENDA include Pride At Work, American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The NGLTF was the first to withdraw support in the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling.

“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,” said Rea Carey, NGLTF’s executive director. “We cannot be complicit in writing such exemptions into federal law.”

LGBT leaders said broad religious exemptions have undermined voting rights, women’s access to reproductive health and affirmative action and that instead of enacting a new law with these exemptions, Congress should pass a measure that delivers the same protections for LGBT people as those contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Civil Rights Act bans discrimination in employment, but also in housing, public accommodations, credit and education.

ENDA would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in workplaces of 15 or more people. There are three parts to the religious exemption:

• A complete exemption for houses of worship, parochial and similar religious schools and missions.

• A codification of the “ministerial exemption,” which exempts positions at religious organizations that involve teaching religion, religious governance or the supervision of individuals engaged in these activities.

• A provision allowing religious organizations to require employees and applicants to conform to a declared set of significant religious tenets, including ones that would bar LGBT people from holding the position.

The measure has passed the U.S. Senate, but is stalled in the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has refused to allow any action on the bill.

But comprehensive coverage is what national LGBT groups are now seeking, and is what U.S. Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch proposed in the first LGBT civil rights bill introduced four decades ago.

“This movement has a responsibility to also chart a course for the future,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “The gay man in Alabama who gets kicked out of his apartment because his partner moves in — or the transgender teenager in Arkansas who gets shamed for using the right restroom — is just as deserving of legal equality as the lesbian in Montana who gets fired because of who she is.

“In other words, it’s time for full LGBT civil rights to come out of the closet.”

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