The outcry of LGBT opposition to the outdated, exemption-riddled version of ENDA currently stalled in Congress just got a whole lot louder. This hour the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force -- the nation's oldest LGBT civil rights organization, and a leader in the fight for ENDA for more than two decades -- announced that it has decided to drop its support for the measure.
The group says that the "broad religious exemptions" contained in the current version of ENDA "are creating gaping legal loopholes to discriminate in federal, state, and local legislation."
NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey explains, via press release:
"The morning after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, we all woke up in a changed and intensified landscape of broad religious exemptions being used as an excuse to discriminate. We are deeply concerned that ENDA's broad exemption will be used as a similar license to discriminate across the country. We are concerned that these types of legal loopholes could negatively impact other issues affecting LGBT people and their families including marriage, access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and access to other reproductive health services. As one of the lead advocates on this bill for 20 years, we do not take this move lightly but we do take it unequivocally - we now oppose this version of ENDA because of its too-broad religious exemption. We cannot be complicit in writing such exemptions into federal law."
Carey, who revealed in an op-ed for The Advocate that the decision came "after much soul searching," says that LGBT people should enjoy the exact same protections under federal law that are afforded to every other marginalized group:
"The campaign to create broad religious exemptions for employment protections repeats a pattern we've seen before in methodically undermining voting rights, women's access to reproductive health and affirmative action. It is time for fair minded people to block this momentum, rather than help speed it into law. We need new federal non-discrimination legislation that contains a reasonable religious accommodation. LGBT people should have the same protections as those contained in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Legal equality is federal law."
"The truth is that those who seek to deny full equality are succeeding by using religion to create a quasi-moral, completely legal mechanism to discriminate. We can't let them succeed. We can't let them ignore the vast majority of people -- and millions of people of faith -- who think that discrimination is completely immoral and should be completely illegal," said Carey.
She's right, of course. As I and others have written for months now, these misleading and disingenuous appeals to "religious freedom" and "religious liberty" are part of a major strategic and rhetorical shift on the part of the anti-LGBT right.
The religious right knows that they've ultimately lost the battle against marriage equality -- and LGBT rights more broadly -- so they're switching gears, focusing their efforts on ensuring that homophobia remains an acceptable prejudice in society by carving out so-called "religious liberty" exemptions to marriage equality and non-discrimination laws that are as broad as they can possibly get away with.
It's an effort that the LGBT community and our allies must resist at all costs, because if our opponents are successful, the "equality" we'll be able to achieve will merely be a hollow victory -- "equality" in name only.
UPDATE: Today, just hours after this announcement from the Task Force, four other major LGBT equality organizations withdrew their support as well: the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Pride at Work. ENDA still has the support of several other major LGBT groups, however, including Freedom to Work and the Human Rights Campaign.