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04/19/2007


ENDA's Problems and Potential

By ARI EZRA WALDMAN

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect millions of Americans from being fired from their jobs simply because of their sexuality, will likely pass the United States Senate soon. A small handful of Republicans (Sens. Collins, Hatch, Heller, Portman, Ayotte, Kirk, and Toomey) joined every Democrat and Democratic-aligned Independent to overcome a Republican filibuster that would have prevented the Senate from even discussing the bill. The bill will most likely never pass the Republican-controlled House.

EqualityThe discussion on ENDA now turns to the law's religious exemptions. I wrote previously about the dangers of those exemptions: they are gaping holes in equality that threaten to make equality meaningless if left unchecked. Controversy surrounding those exemptions occupied nearly an entire hour of discussion during the "ENDA Situation Room," an expert roundtable streamed live here on Towleroad, hosted by leading ENDA advocate and Freedom to Work Founder Tico Almeida and co-hosted by New York Law School. What to do about proposed exemptions is dividing leaders of the gay community, pitting Lambda Legal and Human Rights Campaign advocates on different paths.

Not all religious exemptions to equality laws are bad; no one wants to force a church or synagogue to do something that its liturgy tells it not to. But a cavalier approach to these exemptions could be very bad. The ENDA religious exemption debate is not, counterintuitively, just about exemptions to ENDA's application. It is about future judicial interpretations of ENDA. It's about every future LGBT equality law. It is about accepting that LGBT equality is some special category of equality that unnecessarily gets a shorter reach, like swiss cheese with extra holes. It is about elevating and changing an unrelated right to an antagonist of equality. And every religious exemption that we let slide weakens our position on all of these issues in the next fight.

Continued AFTER THE JUMP.

Continue reading "ENDA's Problems and Potential" »


Republicans Seek to Amend, Expand Exemption in ENDA, Protecting Religious-Affiliated Entities

An amendment to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act's religious exemption authored by Sen. Rob Portman and cosponsored by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Dean Heller, Orrin Hatch, and John McCain seeks to expand that exemption so that it protects religious-affiliated entities from being penalized by governments, Buzzfeed reports.

PortmanThe amendment reads:

“A religious employer’s exemption under this Act shall not result in any action by a Federal government agency, or any state or local government agency that receives Federal funding or financial assistance, to penalize or withhold licenses, permits, certifications, accreditation, contracts, grants, guarantees, tax-exempt status, or any benefits or exemptions from that employer, or to prohibit the employer’s participation in programs or activities sponsored by that Federal, state, or local government agency. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to invalidate any other federal, state, or local law or regulation that otherwise applies to an employer exempt under this section.”

According to Buzzfeed, LGBT advocates from Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union and Freedom to Work will not actively seek to oppose the amendment, and all believe it is an unnecessary provision.

Another sought after amendment, coming from Pat Toomey, would expand the exemption's language, and all LGBT groups are opposed to it. A draft of that amendment was also published by Buzzfeed:

“(b) In addition, (i) an employer shall qualify for this exemption if it is (in whole or in part) managed by a particular religious corporation, association, or society; if it is officially affiliated with a particular religion or religious corporation, association, or society; or if the institution’s curriculum is directed toward the propagation of a particular religion; and (ii) This exemption shall apply regardless of whether the employer, or the employment position at issue, engages in secular activities as well as religious activities.”

The full Senate is expected to take up the bill as soon as today.

Some activists had already expressed concerns about the base religious exemptions in the bill. The NYT also wrote in an op-ed that it found them "terribly broad."


Senator Rob Portman: 'I am Inclined to Support' ENDA

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) suggests he may evolve on ENDA and end up supporting it, Gannett reports:

2_portman“The underlying part of the bill I agree with,” Portman said, “but I’m still working on some of the religious liberty issues.”

The legislation as currently drafted includes an exemption for churches and other religious associations. It would not apply to any “corporation, association, educational institution or institution of learning, or society that is exempt from the religious discrimination provisions” of the Civil Rights Act, according to the legislative text.

But Portman suggested that he’s not completely satisfied with that language and he is working with the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to strengthen the exemption. Still, the Ohio Republican suggested his support for the measure does not hinge on changing the religious exemption.

“I am inclined to support it, anyway,” he said.

Adds the news outlet: "Portman’s possible 'yes' vote could be pivotal for the measure, which is currently just a few votes shy of the 60-vote threshold needed to defeat a GOP-led filibuster."

Portman, as you may recall, has a gay son who prompted the senator's reversal to support marriage equality.

The religious exemption, as we reported earlier today, has been met with skepticism by some LGBT groups. The activist group GetEQUAL released a statement today opposing the exemptions currently in the bill:

“While we are glad that ENDA will receive a vote in the Senate for the first time in almost 20 years, we are dismayed that the bill continues to excuse religious bigotry as acceptable under the law. Broad religious exemptions in the bill actually make it possible that institutions such as schools, hospitals, and universities can continue discriminating against LGBT employees and prospective employees.

We’re calling on progressive champions in the Senate — including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown — to speak out against these exemptions, establishing a clear record that these exemptions are not necessary and are not acceptable in 2013.”


Republican Senators Burr and Portman Targeted On Eve Of ENDA Vote

Richard_BurrThe Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee is set to consider the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) tomorrow, July 10. While the bill already has the support of senate Democrats, LGBT activists today set their sights on GOP senators who have previously expressed support for LGBT rights, such as marriage equality or the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". 

The group Freedom to Work targeted Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), a GOP member of the committee who previously voted for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". The group enlisted the help of LGBT activist Dan Gurley to assist with their efforts. Gurley believed that Sen. Burr's background as a former business owner should have allowed him to better understand the benefits of legislation like ENDA: 

“There’s a lot of transition still taking place in our economy here, but the growth areas, many of them are the creative fields of employment and white-collar growth...We strongly feel, and believes that there’s evidence to prove that having non-discrimination laws in place would serve as an important recruitment tool for business, and that’s why it’s an important thing to do for North Carolina and the country.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, also noted that many prominent North Carolina companies have already adopted non-discrimination policies.

“It’s long past time for our politicians to follow the good example set by companies with a strong North Carolina presence ranging from American Eagle Outfitters to BP gasoline to Coca-Cola, all of which have endorsed the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

Unfortunately, in a statement released late today to the Washington Blade, Burr announced that he will be opposing ENDA:

“Like most Americans, I strongly oppose and condemn unjust discrimination,” Burr said. “It is my hope that our society can be tolerant of different people and ideas. That said, whenever we consider new legislation we must always consider the interplay of new laws with existing rights. I am concerned that the ENDA bill would go beyond our existing laws protecting individuals’ employment rights and would impose new burdens and legal uncertainties regarding the exercise of religious liberties. Therefore, I plan to oppose the bill.”

Rob_PortmanMeanwhile, in Ohio, GetEQUAL scheduled a news conference today with hopes of grabbing the attention of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Towleroad readers may recognize Portman as the senator who came out in support of marriage equality after learning that his son is gay. GetEQUAL's press conference plans to appeal to those sentiments by showcasing the stories of two mothers, both of whom have children who have suffered at the hands of workplace discrimination. Heather Cronk, managing director for the group, had this to say:

“We’re calling on Senator Portman to ‘evolve’ on workplace discrimination in the same way that he ‘evolved’ on marriage equality — by seeing this issue as one of fundamental fairness and equal opportunity.” 

Jeffrey Sadosky, a spokesperson for Sen. Portman, did release a prior statement last month, which was less than committal. 

“Sen. Portman is strongly opposed to discrimination and is looking at proposals to address it,” Sadosky said. “He is concerned about excessive reliance on litigation as a tool for social change, and will continue to review the most recent version of ENDA.”

Since the bill is co-sponsored by all 12 Democratic members of the The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, it is expected to be advanced. If so, the legislation faces an uphill battle, especially in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. 


Senator Rob Portman Talks ENDA, Immigration, and Marriage Equality: VIDEO

Buzzfeed sat down with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) at one of its Buzzfeed Brews events during which beer is guzzled. About half of the discussion was devoted to LGBT issues including immigration, ENDA, and his shift on marriage equality.

PortmanChris Geidner encapsulates the discussion:

Noting that many areas of federal law address marriage-based benefits, Portman counseled against the creation of a specific category for same-sex couples in immigration law — although he stopped short of saying he would oppose such a measure....

...Portman also expressed general support for LGBT employment protections, saying, "I totally support the concept" of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar most employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"There oughta be a law in place," he said, expressing two potential concerns with ENDA: "litigation that could result" and "religious freedom."

...Asked about criticism he received when announcing his changed view on marriage equality by those who said it shouldn't have taken learning about his son for him to change on the issue, he initially replied, "Whatever."

Portman then said he hadn't thought about the issue in depth prior to learning about his son, although he said that perhaps he should have done so.

Pick up the conversation as it turns to LGBT issues, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Senator Rob Portman Talks ENDA, Immigration, and Marriage Equality: VIDEO" »


Paul Cameron Tells Rob Portman to Renounce Marriage Equality Support for the Sake of 'Son You Love'

Dr Paul Cameron, prominent health researcher (in the field of smoking) turned anti-gay activist, called on Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) to renounce his support for marriage equality in a press release this week:

"For the sake of the son you love, urge him to marry a woman," Cameron says.

CameronFrom the lengthy press release:

For the same reason society is concerned about the health effects of secondhand smoke, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court should oppose the rush to nationalize same-sex marriage. Litigating for “marriage equality” is like suing to suspend gravity; as a matter of science, gay marriage is very clearly unequal in terms of procreative and mortality prospects…

An April NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that 50 percent of Americans imagine with Rob Portman, against the empirical evidence, that people are born gay. Ted Olson, the GOP lawyer who argued for gay marriage in the Supreme Court is sworn to tell the truth, falsely wrote in the Journal that homosexual orientation is “a characteristic with which they were born and which they cannot change.”

In fact, twin studies show that homosexual interests are not DNA-determined like race, gender and eye color, so gay analogies to the Civil Rights struggles of the last century are inapt. How else does one explain how Ellen DeGeneres’ first ‘lifetime partner’ could abandon homosexuality for traditional marriage? Senator Portman’s son was no more “born with” homosexual preferences than anyone is ‘born with’ a sexual taste for children — both are acquired and can be controlled.


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