ACLU, NCLR, and More Groups Drop Support of ENDA

The ACLU is one of a handful of organizations that say they will also drop support for the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

BY Michelle Garcia

July 08 2014 4:23 PM ET UPDATED: July 09 2014 1:47 PM ET

Following the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's announcement this morning that it would no longer support the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the American Civil Liberties Union announced this afternoon that it would also drop its support for the bill.

The announcement was also cosigned by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Transgender Law Center. A joint statement from the groups says that the current version of the bill, allowing religiously affiliated employers the ability to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, has "long been a source of significant concern to us," but the Supreme Court's decision on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby has made it clear that religious exemption provisions are "no longer tenable."

The organizations say that after decades of introducing multiple versions of a bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the country is due for a suitable one. They say that if this bill were to be passed and signed into law in its current state, it would still leave many LGBT workers without workplace protections.

"Moreover, it actually might lessen non-discrimination protections now provided for LGBT people by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and very likely would generate confusion rather than clarity in federal law," they wrote Tuesday. "Finally, such a discrimination provision in federal law likely would invite states and municipalities to follow the unequal federal lead."

President Obama has announced that he will issue an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees.

The groups cited the national outcry against Arizona’s SB 1062, a bill that was eventually vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. It would have allowed business owners to cite religious liberty as a reason to discriminate openly against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or other factors.

“Federal legislation to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination is way beyond overdue, but Congress has no place giving religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT workers,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office. ”We can no longer support a bill that treats LGBT discrimination as different and somehow more legitimate than other forms of discrimination.”

Still, Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign confirmed to The Advocate that HRC would not drop its support for ENDA in its current form.

"HRC supports ENDA because it will provide essential workplace protections to millions of LGBT people," Sainz said Tuesday.

Additionally, organizations like Freedom to Work have been pushing members of Congress to simply address the bill in the House, as Speaker John Boehner has said he isn't compelled to put ENDA up for a vote.

Geoff Kors, the National Center for Lesbian Rights' senior policy and legislative strategist, says the strategy now for LGBT organizations like his, which will no longer support the current version of ENDA, will be to educate members of Congress and those running for office on the sudden shift in direction.

"[They'll need to] understand why we took the position we did and why this discriminatory exemption would truly undermine the purpose of the law," he told The Advocate Tuesday. "The group the law is designed to protect would not be fully protected, and there would be a provision that" allows LGBT workers to be openly discriminated against.

Meanwhile several members of Congress are evaluating the flap around the current bill. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, shares the concern that "too broad a religious exemption from the antidiscrimination provisions of ENDA could eviscerate the rule and leave potentially hundreds of thousands of Americans without protection in workplace," he said in a statement to The Advocate. "The House should take up ENDA now, so we can carefully tailor its provisions to protect  religious freedom and the rights of LGBT workers, without one being used as a pretext for the denial of the other."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who has cosponsored several iterations of ENDA, also expressed concern for the religious exemption in the Senate version of the bill.

“I think it is overbroad and I will of course work hard with my colleagues to narrow it appropriately," he said in a statement issued to The Advocate. "Particularly in light of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, we must be more careful than ever to ensure that religious liberty, a cherished American value intended to shield individuals from government interference, is not wielded as a sword against employees who may not share their employers’ religious beliefs.”

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