UPDATE, November 7, 2:27 p.m.: The Senate approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with a 64-32 vote. The ENDA will now move on to the House.
Readers of Rewire are all too familiar with efforts to let bosses impose their religious beliefs on their employees by making their birth control decisions for them. On Thursday, the Senate actually voted on a provision that would have allowed bosses to use religion to discriminate against their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. Although the amendment was soundly defeated (43 -55), the fact that the Senate actually took a vote on this shows how widespread these efforts are.
That’s right—more efforts to use religion as an excuse to discriminate.
This is what happened today: The Senate passed S 815, the most recent version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would bar employment discrimination against LGBT workers. Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) offered an amendment that would have weakened its protections by broadening ENDA’s current religious exemption—which already provides less protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation than discrimination on the basis of race or sex or national origin.
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The Toomey amendment would have gone even further, using ambiguous and undefined language that could allow even private, for-profit employers to discriminate against their LGBT employees. It could even allow them to discriminate based on any reason or bias, not just on religious beliefs. The Toomey amendment was just another step in a long-term strategy to normalize using religion as a tool to discriminate in a variety of arenas.
In recent years, there has been a sustained, multi-pronged effort to use religion to discriminate against both LGBT individuals and women. We have seen it repeatedly in the reproductive health-care context. More than 80 federal cases have been filed by bosses challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptives with no cost-sharing. Just last month, the House of Representatives used the issue of letting bosses refuse to cover birth control as a bargaining chip in the negotiations over shutting down the government.
But these efforts go beyond wanting to deny women access to birth control. Private organizations have refused to allow LGBT individuals to adopt or serve as a foster family. Bosses have discriminated against single mothers just for being single mothers. Bosses have discriminated against women for using in vitro fertilization treatment to become pregnant. The Toomey amendment was just another attempt to allow bosses to impose their beliefs on their employees and to discriminate against those who do not share the same beliefs.
Right now, no federal law explicitly protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans from being fired because of who they are or who they love. The Senate’s vote passing ENDA is a crucial step toward changing that, advancing the principle that every worker be judged solely on her or his merits, and not on personal characteristics unrelated to job performance.
If ENDA is enacted, it would establish long-awaited employment protections. The Toomey amendment would have gutted these new protections by potentially empowering for-profit employers to discriminate against LGBT individuals for any reason. In addition, it would have furthered the agenda of those who would legitimize discrimination under the guise of religion.
Let’s be clear. The Toomey amendment and similar efforts are not about religious freedom. Religious freedom means that people should be free to exercise their beliefs and not have others’ religious beliefs imposed on them. The Toomey amendment would have done just the opposite: It would let bosses impose their beliefs—religious and otherwise—on their employees. These efforts are about discrimination, plain and simple.