Hobby Lobby Ruling Prompts Gay Rights Groups To Reject Prized Bill

After two decades of lobbying for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has decided to withdraw its support for the bill. In the wake of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, the group fears that the ENDA's broad religious exemption would allow companies to discriminate against employees for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Melissa Block speaks with the group's executive director, Rae Carey, about the move.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now to another striking outcome of the Hobby Lobby ruling - this week, multiple gay rights groups announced that they are withdrawing support for legislation they have championed for decades. The legislation is known as ENDA, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. Gay rights groups had been pushing for the legislation that would extended current nondiscrimination law to protect workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Now the same group say the Supreme Court's ruling would give private companies too much leeway to discriminate against LGBT people. Rae Carey is Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and she joins me here in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

RAE CAREY: Thank you.

BLOCK: This does seem counterintuitive - that your group and other groups are withdrawing support for a nondiscrimination bill that's intended to protect LGBT people. And your concern, as I understand it, has to do with a religious exemption within that bill. What's the concern?

CAREY: The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has now come out and opposed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act because the political landscape has changed. We and other organizations have had concerns about the religious exemption included in ENDA all along. What started happening, though, is that we were able to see, both in states like Arizona and Mississippi where a religious exemption law passed and then in the Hobby Lobby case, how religious exemptions were being used to discriminate against people.

BLOCK: And your fear in the case of ENDA is what specifically - because, again, this is legislation you've supported for many, many years.

CAREY: Our fears is this. Unlike other civil rights legislation, the religious exemption that is written into the current version of ENDA legalizes discrimination against LGBT people and LGBT people only. So for example the language of the religious exemption in ENDA is much broader than that of title seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example. Under current civil rights law in title seven, a religious institution is free to hire people of the same faith for religious positions. So a Catholic hospital can hire a Catholic priest for that hospital. They don't have to hire, for example, a rabbi. What happens with the language in ENDA is that that same hospital could choose not to hire or fire a cafeteria worker, a janitor, a receptionist, simply because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

BLOCK: This language was included in the bill that you supported. This religious exemption was there. Was it a case of you and your - and other gay rights groups making the calculation that, look, we don't like this, but if that language is in there to get the bill passed, we'll live with it?

CAREY: For many years, our calculation was we need to try to get any protections we can for LGBT people. And honestly, when the bill was introduced in 1994, if we had had this particular religious exemption, we probably would have celebrated the bill's passage. But that was 1994. There was zero protections for LGBT people federally. There were only nine states that protected against discrimination, only one of which protected against discrimination with gender identity. What's happened in recent years is that we have made progress as a country when it comes to treating LGBT people and same-sex couples fairly, so the landscape has changed. We have progressed and so should the bill.

BLOCK: What do you want to happen now? Do you want the bill to be entirely rewritten? Do you want the Obama administration to weigh in on this? What are you asking for?

CAREY: Well, a number of things - first and foremost, we want a fair piece of legislation that protects LGBT people from being fired and provides employment protections. What we want is that legislation to be changed to include the same religious accommodation that other laws have.

BLOCK: Ray Carey, thanks for talking with us.

CAREY: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Ray Carey is Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

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