New fallout from Hobby Lobby
Five major advocacy groups working to promote gay rights, reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, on Tuesday backed off from support for a pending bill in Congress to make it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation. Some gay rights activists have been working for such a bill for decades, and finally succeeded in the Senate in November.
The withdrawal of support was announced jointly in this statement by the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Transgender Law Center. The text of the religious exemption in the bill to which they object can be read here. (UPDATE: Another group, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, has announced a similar stand.)
In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Court ruled on June 30 that federal law gives for-profit businesses that are owned by a small group a right to refuse for religious reasons to provide birth control methods and services for their employees.
The gay rights groups said in their statement: “Given the types of workplace discrimination we see increasingly against LGBT [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has become clear that the inclusion of this provision is no longer tenable.”
They said that the religious exemption written into the bill “has long been a source of significant concern to us.” But they said they had now concluded, in response to others’ reaction to the Hobby Lobby ruling, that they could no longer support the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (Senate Bill 815) with that exemption included.
As summarized by the Library of Congress, here is the provision at issue: “Section 6. Makes this Act inapplicable to corporations, associations, educational institutions or institutions of learning, or societies exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (thereby establishing a religious employer’s exemption).”
S. 815 was passed by the Senate on November 7, by a roll-call vote of sixty-four to thirty-two. In January, it was sent to a committee in the House of Representatives, but so far has not moved forward and seems to have little chance of passage in the House.
If the new measure is passed by the full Congress with the religious exemption intact, the gay rights groups contended, “the most important federal law for the LGBT community in American history would leave too many jobs, and too many LGBT workers, without protection. 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.”
Moreover, they argued, it would encourage state and local governments “to follow the unequal federal lead.” Currently, twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., have laws that ban discrimination against workers based on their sexual orientation.