President Barack Obama's seminal gay rights legislation has become the latest casualty of the Supreme Court's decision to allow Hobby Lobby to deny their employees contraception on religious grounds.
The Employee Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, was passed by the Senate last year, but it has stalled in the House in part because Republicans wanted greater religious exemptions. But the exemptions already contained within the bill, gay rights activists fear, provide a blue print for employers to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender peoples in the context of the Hobby Lobby decision.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby has made it all the more important that we not accept this inappropriate provision,” the American Civil Liberties Union and four LGBT groups wrote in withdrawing their support for ENDA. “Because opponents of LGBT equality are already misreading that decision as having broadly endorsed rights to discriminate against others, we cannot accept a bill that sanctions discrimination and declares that discrimination against LGBT people is more acceptable than other kinds of discrimination.”
The decision also puts Obama in a bind over a promised executive order banning companies that do business with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT employees. Religious groups and leaders, including Rick Warren, who delivered the invocation at Obama’s first inaugural, and Michael Wear, who worked in Obama’s faith-based initiatives office in his first term and on faith outreach in his reelection campaign, wrote the President on the day of the Hobby Lobby decision to ask for increased religious exemptions from the federal rule. The idea is that in order to do business with the federal government, many religious groups would have to go against their core beliefs that only heterosexual married sex is condoned in the eyes of God. Religious charities work closely with the government in development and education at home and abroad.
So the rule, whenever it is issued, will likely either offend religious or gay groups.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers from both chambers of Congress on Wednesday introduced legislation to address the Hobby Lobby decision. The bill would reinforce the language in the original Affordable Care Act that guarantees health insurance coverage of contraception.
“After five justices decided last week that an employer’s personal views can interfere with women's access to essential health services, we in Congress need to act quickly to right this wrong,” said Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and one of bills' cosponsors. “This bicameral legislation will ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to health care, period. I hope Republicans will join us to revoke this court-issued license to discriminate and return the right of Americans to make their own decisions, about their own health care and their own bodies.”
Thus far no Republicans have signed on, and although a handful of Republicans voted for ENDA, it is unlikely given their universal opposition to Obamacare that any will sign on to Murray’s bill, entitled the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act. The Democratic push is sure to anger religious groups, which objected to and sued the governmentto change the original Obamacare language -- all of which means the bill will likely have a tough time passing the Senate and is a non-starter in the House.
Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat and the only openly gay senator, was the lead co-sponsor of ENDA. She said on Tuesday that she is looking at revising her bill to reflect the Hobby Lobby decision. She will surely be watching closely whatever language the White House lawyers come up with for Obama's executive order. Finding a way to appease women, gays and religious groups is looking increasingly hard. A cynic's answer to how this plays out is: Ahead of the midterm elections, is which group is the least important at the polls?