Gay Rights Orgs Won't Support Equality Bill With Religious Exemptions

Fearful of the consequences of the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court, some prominent gay rights organisations are withdrawing support for the Equality Non-Discrimination Act due to a religious exemption clause in the bill.

The groups say they now refuse to support ENDA as it is written due to the decision to strike down a major part of the Affordable Care Act. SCOTUS ruled that family-owned businesses cannot be required to offer employees contraceptive coverage that conflicts with the family's religious beliefs. Many critics of the decision, including dissenting justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have argued that the language written in the majority opinion is far too broad with too many unintended (or perhaps very much intended) consequences.

The groups now opposing ENDA believe that the religious exemption currently written into the ENDA draft legislation would be affected by these consequences, thus basically making the rest of the language in the bill less effective.

Rea Carey executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, says the organisation is one of the several groups who has dropped support for the ENDA, despite being one of the most aggressive groups targeting the Obama Administration on the issue of gay rights:

If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can't have access to certain health care, it's a hop, skip and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them. We disagree with that trend. The implications of Hobby Lobby are becoming clear. We do not take this move lightly. We've been pushing for this bill for 20 years.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have formed a coalition to oppose the bill. The coalition said in a joint statement that they also would be withdrawing support.

ENDA's discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people...[The current language of] the most important federal law for the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community in American history would leave too many jobs, and too many LGBT workers, without protection.

The Human Rights Campaign, however, does not appear to agree and has issued its own statement reiterating support for ENDA as written, "because it will provide essential workplace protections to millions of LGBT people."

Image via AP Images.