While Governor Jan Brewer may have vetoed Arizona’s infamous “Turn Away the Gays” bill, other states are flirting with similarly discriminatory legislation. This serves to show exactly why we need a federal LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination bill like ENDA.
Missouri is the latest state to see the introduction of legislation that would make it lawful to deny employment, goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religious belief. The Missouri legislation was introduced by Sen. Wayne Wallingford of Cape Girardeau who contends the legislation is necessary to protect religious freedom in Missouri. He cites the florist shop that was the subject of an ongoing Washington lawsuit, and cases like it, as proof that religious rights are being trampled.
However, presumably wanting to shield himself from criticism, Wallingford is on record as saying he supports possibly widening Missouri’s Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation protections, implying that his bill wouldn’t infringe on any of those rights. It’s all about the religious, he contends.
Accepting Wallingford at his word and assuming that he isn’t trying to directly undermine LGBT civil rights in Missouri, we’re still left with a problem. The legislation essentially elevates religious belief above other protected classes. It makes this “special class” just that bit more special, and that’s where the problem firmly sits.
The legislation could also be used, for instance, to undermine the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that businesses could cite their religious beliefs as a reason why they don’t wish to comply, for instance, with the contraception mandate. However, while there are a number of inequalities women still face across a number of sectors, they do have gender and sex discrimination protections at the federal level, meaning that no matter what antagonistic states do, there is federal law to fall back on in order to find a quick remedy to any such discrimination.
Currently there is no such federal enumeration for LGBT people, meaning that this “religious right” to turn away LGBTs could be used to deny them all kinds of things, like employment. While Wallingford saying he would be happy to support amending the Human Rights Act to ensure that gay people are protected is all well and good, the Republican controlled state remains hostile to any such move, and the gesture, while apparently well meaning, is largely hollow.
As such, the looming threat of the Turn Away the Gays bills across the U.S. only serves to further emphasize why an LGBT inclusive federal Employment Non Discrimination Act is so necessary.
While it is true that ENDA wouldn’t technically hit “Turn Away the Gays” legislation head-on, ENDA would create a much needed federal standard that would make it clear to states that federal law protects LGBTs. It could prevent this kind of legislation ever getting out of committee because any such bills would be so obviously flawed, and certainly would provide a quick solution to any lawsuits surrounding the so called right to discriminate.
Earlier this session ENDA of course passed out of the Senate for the first time in years, but now has floundered in the House. Despite the fact that the bill has bipartisan support and it is widely believed that with some work there would be a strong showing of Republican backers, House Speaker John Boehner has refused to bring the legislation for a vote. He is quoted as saying he believes the legislation is unnecessary because LGBTs are already protected, and he doesn’t support enumerating certain classes of individuals.
Well, here you are Speaker Boehner. Here is a cognizable threat to the civil and employment rights of LGBTs that you cannot ignore. The Turn Away the Gays legislation is an attempt to enshrine religious privilege for the exact purpose of discriminating freely and widely, and for the LGBT community there is currently little federal legislation to fall back on in order to fight this kind of attack.
What more evidence does Boehner need that this kind of discrimination against LGBTs is alive and unrolling right now in conservative states? Or, must he admit then that his denial of basic employment protections was never about evidence at all and instead about kowtowing to the religious extremist wing of the GOP which is systematically working to strip the civil rights of minorities throughout the U.S. and is being enabled by extremists in Congress and Boehner’s own permissive attitude?
One way he can fight back is to bring ENDA to the floor. It’s not controversial, it does have America’s support and it would help send a signal that this kind of regressive Turn Away the Gays legislation should never see the light of day.
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