House Passes Bill Protecting Gays, Despite Religious Right Furor

The U.S. House of Representatives last month passed legislation protecting gay people from bias in employment, a move that has infuriated the Religious Right.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed 235 to 184. Thirty-five Republicans joined 200 Democrats to pass the bill. Efforts by Republicans to stop the measure from coming up for a vote failed 222 to 198.

The vote was a blow to the Religious Right, which has lobbied incessantly against the bill and used it to spur activism.

Religious Right groups insist that ENDA is a threat to religious freedom. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, asserted that the goal of ENDA is “suppressing religious freedom” and referred members to an FRC publication called Homosexuality Is Not a Civil Right, which he said, “explains how homosexual activists are camouflaging their demand for special treatment as an appeal for ‘equal rights.’”

Concerned Women for America (CWA) was also displeased.

“By passing this Orwellian piece of legislation, the Democrat-controlled House has displayed exceptional arrogance,” Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues at CWA, said. “Congress apparently believes it has carte blanche authority to nullify any constitutional provision which it finds bothersome. In this case, they’ve drawn a black line through the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

A report on Focus on the Family’s Web site insisted that ENDA “could spell trouble for Christian business owners, churches and faith-based groups, which could be obligated to hire people who don’t share their beliefs. ENDA also could silence religious speech in the workplace.”

In fact, the bill’s provisions do not apply to houses of worship and religious organizations and does nothing to take away anyone’s free-speech rights in workplaces. Section 6, titled “Exemptions for Religious Organizations,” states upfront that the bill will not apply to those institutions. Religious entities are routinely given exemptions from civil rights laws so they cannot be forced to hire people outside their own faith traditions.