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Gay-rights groups reject anti-bias bill due to religious exemption

Published July 8, 2014 4:33 pm

Hobby Lobby fallout • Supreme Court ruling upholding religious rights of corporations prompted defection of bill supporters.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, supported a bill to protect gay people from workplace discrimination, in large part because it contained a strong exemption for religious organizations.

Now a collection of gay-rights groups are abandoning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) over that very exemption, afraid that if the bill passes, it would allow employers to undercut the proposal's very goal by claiming a moral objection to homosexuality.

The coordinated announcement from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights is a reaction to the Supreme Court's recent ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the arts-and-crafts chain cited a moral objection to offering employees certain forms of contraceptives, required under the Affordable Care Act.

The court ruled 5-4 in the company's favor, saying the owners of privately held companies have religious freedom rights.

In a joint statement, the gay-rights groups said: "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."

Hatch declined to comment Tuesday on the gay-rights group;s reversal on ENDA. He was one of 10 Republicans to vote for the bill in November (Sen. Mike Lee was not among them). It passed on a 64-to-32 vote. The House has yet to take up the bill and isn't expected to anytime soon.

Hatch cited the religious exemption in explaining his vote, though he said it wasn't the only reason he voted for the proposal, saying he found it objectionable that gay and lesbian people could lose a job based on their sexual preference.

"The reason I supported this bill is simple. I believe that this discrimination is wrong," Hatch said at the time.