The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision could have impacts beyond birth control — and that has some LGBT groups worried.
In response to Supreme Court's decision, several major LGBT advocacy groups, including the ACLU and GLAAD, on Tuesday announced they are dropping their support for a proposed federal law that would attempt to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination.
The groups said the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) contains religious exemptions that are far too broad. Beyond typical exemptions for explicitly religious organizations like churches and ministries, ENDA includes provisions that would allow religious employers, such as a religiously affiliated hospital, to refuse to hire LGBT people.
"ENDA's discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations — including hospitals, nursing homes, and universities — a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people," the groups argued. "The provision essentially says that anti-LGBT discrimination is different — more acceptable and legitimate — than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex."
Last week, the Supreme Court cited constitutionally protected religious rights to exempt Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations from Obamacare's birth control mandate. The decision, LGBT advocates argue, could embolden opponents of LGBT rights to similarly invoke religious liberties to effectively negate workplace protection laws like ENDA.
The Supreme Court, however, attempted to separate its decision from workplace protections. "The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion. "Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal."
Some LGBT advocates worry the clarification isn't enough. Now that religious employers know they can challenge controversial laws by touting their religious beliefs, they might be encouraged to try the same challenge with workplace protection laws for LGBT employees. If ENDA includes broad religious exemptions, such a challenge could be made a whole lot easier.
"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," Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, said in a statement. "It is time for fair-minded people to block this momentum, rather than help speed it into law."
As the White House prepares executive orders that would protect transgender federal employees and LGBT employees of federal contractors, advocates have also asked the Obama administration to not include broad religious exemptions in the orders.
Update: Added the statement announcing more LGBT groups' opposition to ENDA.