There was big news on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act this week — the legislation lost a slew of big-name LGBT supporters. While, in theory, that sentence sounds negative, the move could actually take the legislation one step closer to fruition.
In a wave of announcements Tuesday, groups like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights, American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal all dropped their support for the long-stalled bill, which seeks to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But, last year, to get past a crucial Senate vote, which ultimately was in the affirmative, lawmakers expanded the religious exemptions in the bill, effectively allowing most entities with religious beliefs that do not comport with LGBT people to not have to follow the law’s tenets.
It is that religious exemption, coupled with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing some companies to deny contraceptive health care to employees because of their personal religious beliefs, that prompted this week’s actions. The coalition of LGBT groups all said that countless LGBT workers would remain unprotected should ENDA pass in its current form.
ENDA has been introduced every legislative session but one since 1994 and has remained one of the most critical pieces of legislation that LGBT advocates lobby for. So to have these four leading national LGBT groups say in unison that they cannot support the measure sends a powerful message.
Several years ago, the issue of ENDA caused a significant rift in the LGBT community, as protections for transgender people were written out of the bill in order to secure its passage, which ultimately was unsuccessful. Some advocates at that time decried the bill in that version, while others embraced it for political expediency.
What Tuesday’s development did was state that political expediency cannot be tolerated when it comes to basic LGBT rights. Supporting the bill while allowing the broadest possible religious exemptions just to get it passed could be doing more harm than good, as it would give religious entities the rubber stamp to discriminate, with the support of the LGBT community.
Instead, the bold move taken by the four agencies, and the others that likely will follow their lead, illustrates the value and necessity of the law. By refusing to compromise, the LGBT organizations are showing that LGBT rights can and should not be sacrificed for political gain. That important statement lends legitimacy to the cause, to the bill and, hopefully, to the momentum to bring the issue forward.