The End of ENDA?

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a bill pending in the U.S. Senate that would prohibit employment discrimination against an individual because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Understandably, this proposed law was originally championed by virtually every gay rights organization in the country. Just as understandably, many gay rights organizations have now withdrawn their support for this legislation. The reason? The Senate has added to the bill a provision that grants an exception for religious organizations to its prohibition against discrimination. Furthermore, it is presumed from the decision in the Hobby Lobby case that this exception would also apply to secular closely-held corporations whose owners want to discriminate against homosexuals for religious reasons
Let’s take a closer look. When was the last time you heard an argument against gay rights that wasn’t based on religion? “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”, right? Sure, occasionally you’ll hear right-wing types allege that marriage equality would damage the institution of marriage in general, but they never get around to explaining how or why that would be the case, neither theoretically nor empirically. We’ve had marriage equality in enough states for a long enough time now that if gay marriage was somehow damaging “traditional” marriage in those jurisdictions, there would be research available to back up that claim, but there isn’t.
So, lacking actual logic, reason, and/or research to support their homophobia, gay rights opponents almost always fall back on that endless font of illogic: organized religion. After all, if you believe in something based on “faith”, you don’t need reason or logic to bolster your argument, all you have to do is cite a passage from a book written thousands of years ago by people who didn’t know that the earth revolves around the sun. And so it has come to pass that most discrimination against gays is religiously based. Sometimes such beliefs are sincerely held (doesn’t make them any less wrongheaded though); sometimes individuals just use religion as a cover for their gay bashing. Either way, the rationale for hate and discrimination comes from somebody’s “good book”. This being the case, to pass a law that bans workplace discrimination against gays, but builds in a loophole for the people who are the most likely to practice such discrimination, makes no sense whatsoever. It would be like passing the Voting Rights Act, but putting in an exemption for southern states. It was in the south that Blacks were prevented from voting, and so to have exempted southern states from the provisions of the Voting Rights Act would have rendered it worthless. Likewise, it is within our faith-based community (and those hiding their hatred behind religion) that a large proportion of anti-gay discrimination takes place. Therefore, to exempt religious believers/pretenders from ENDA would eviscerate much of the statute’s meaning and effect. Many southerners used religion for years to argue for the appropriateness of slavery and then Jim Crow laws. Some still do, but we don’t allow such beliefs to act as an excuse to evade racial anti-discrimination statutes. The ENDA situation is no different, and so I agree with gay rights groups who have withdrawn their support for this bill.


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