The Senate’s passing of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act on Thursday was certainly an important liberal accomplishment, as was the defeat of a measure to broaden the bill’s religious exemption.
But even the more limited exemption for American religious institutions permits these institutions of all faiths to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. The religious exemption, as the National Women’s Law Center points out, still “provides LGBT people with less protection from workplace discrimination than other protected groups.” Clearly this is not true equality before the law.
Mandating that religious employers not discriminate for reasons of sexual orientation would not prevent churches or their members from the “free exercise” of their personal, if inhumane, religious beliefs. It would merely prevent religious institutions from imposing their discriminatory policy on employees who may not share their employer’s religion or agree with this particular bit of dogma. While the Senate bill is not an “establishment of religion”, it does establish, or further establish, that religious doctrine, however undemocratic it is in the eyes of our secular state, may influence our laws.
I understand that Democratic senators needed to reach a compromise with Republican senators in order to pass, at this late date, any bill that helps put a stop to such workplace discrimination, at least in most workplaces. And given that the House does not seem inclined to follow the Senate’s liberal lead in this matter, it may be a moot point at present. And yet we need to be clear– extending any religious exemption from basic, broad democratic rights is not what a democracy ought to be doing.
UPDATE— It should be noted that many religious institutions and organizations do not support LGBT discrimination of any kind.
- Michelangelo Signorile: ENDA: Stuck in a ’90s Time Warp (huffingtonpost.com)
- Senate Rejects Toomey Religious Exemption Amendment to ENDA (towleroad.com)
- The People Tell Congress To Stop The Homophobia And Pass The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (leanleft.com)
- Who would God discriminate against? (washingtonpost.com)
- Liberal groups praise ENDA passage (jta.org)