Late last year, when the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), it was viewed by many as one of the highlights of an already-historic year for LGBT people. In Maine we have protections so that no one can be fired or not hired based on their sexual orientation, but the majority of states do not have such a law. So when ENDA passed, we celebrated here in Maine.
Unfortunately, half a year later our excitement over the possibility of strong federal legislation banning such discrimination has turned to disappointment. The current version of ENDA now resting in the U.S. House contains a provision that would allow religiously affiliated employers to continue to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Given the types of workplace discrimination we see increasingly against LGBT people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, the ACLU can no longer support ENDA.
It’s always disappointing to withdraw support for a bill, particularly one that has such an important and noble purpose. But details matter, and as the ACLU’s full statement discusses, the type of discrimination that would be allowed by this religious exception is not hypothetical. Increasingly, it is precisely what employment discrimination against LGBT people looks like.
We’ll keep you updated if an acceptable version of ENDA resurfaces. Thankfully folks in Maine have laws to protect them from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it’s imperative that we make such guarantees universal, and not simply a function of which state lines you fall between.