US: Several LGBT rights groups withdraw support of ENDA

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The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and The American Civil Liberties Union announced their withdrawal of support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on Tuesday in two separate statements.

The statement made by the ACLU was also signed by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force stated the decision came about because “broad religious exemptions, such as the one in ENDA, are creating gaping legal loopholes to discriminate in federal, state and local legislation.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the Task Force, said in a statement: “The morning after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, we all woke up in a changed and intensified landscape of broad religious exemptions being used as an excuse to discriminate.

“We are deeply concerned that ENDA’s broad exemption will be used as a similar license to discriminate across the country. We are concerned that these types of legal loopholes could negatively impact other issues affecting LGBT people and their families including marriage, access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and access to other reproductive health services.

“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. We cannot be complicit in writing such exemptions into federal law.”

In the statement, Carey said that religious exemptions, like those present in ENDA, have historically hindered progress for both women and people of colour. The Task Force is advocating for LGBT people to be protected similarly to other marginalized groups under a federal non-discrimination law with “a reasonable religious accommodation.”

Carey stated: “The truth is that those who seek to deny full equality are succeeding by using religion to create a quasi-moral, completely legal mechanism to discriminate. We can’t let them succeed.

“We can’t let them ignore the vast majority of people — and millions of people of faith — who think that discrimination is completely immoral and should be completely illegal.”

In the ACLU’s statement, the organisation said: “The provision in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that allows religious organisations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity has long been a source of significant concern to us.”

The ACLU also cited the recent Hobby Lobby ruling as playing a role in their decision to withdraw support.

The statement said: “The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby has made it all the more important that we not accept this inappropriate provision. Because opponents of LGBT equality are already misreading that decision as having broadly endorsed rights to discriminate against others, we cannot accept a bill that sanctions discrimination and declares that discrimination against LGBT people is more acceptable than other kinds of discrimination.”

The statement goes on to say: “Our ask is a simple one: Do not give religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT people when they have no such right to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.”

In June, The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center, FreedomOhio, Equality New Mexico, Wyoming Equality and the Transgender Education Network of Texas all dropped support of the bill, saying it would give religious people a ‘license to discriminate’.