On Monday, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which bans workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians, cleared a major procedural hurdle in the Senate, all but guaranteeing that the bill will pass the upper chamber later this week.
Polls show that a majority of Americans support the bill, which bars companies with more than 15 people from making employment decisions based on someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. Indeed, the bill is so seemingly non-controversial — similar bans exist for discrimination on the basis of race and gender — that 80 percent of voters assumed that such a law already existed.
On Monday, seven Republican senators joined 54 Democrats in voting to end debate, lending decent bipartisan support to the bill. However, the bill is already deemed to be in big trouble, because there's a very good chance that the Republican-led House will kill it. Here are five reasons why conservatives have said they oppose ENDA.
This line of reasoning comes from the Republican who matters most: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has the power to bring ENDA up for a vote on the House floor.
"The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
The counter-argument comes from Boehner's fellow Republican, Rep. Charlie Dent (Penn.). "Much of American industry has already moved in this direction,” he said. “They have their own anti-discrimination policies.”
That includes 88 percent of the Fortune 500, badly wounding the "ENDA is bad for business" argument.
Here is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) explaining to The Huffington Post why he was hesitant to support ENDA:
Whether it imposes quotas, whether it has reverse discrimination, whether it has the kinds of provisions that really preserve equal rights for all citizens or, like for example, busing. Busing was done in the name of equality. Busing was a failure. Quotas were a failure. A lot of people thought they were solutions. They weren't. They bred problems. [Huffington Post]
However, like similar laws involving race or gender, ENDA wouldn't force employers to meet certain quotas of gay employees. And as The Huffington Post points out, it prevents anyone from being discriminated against for their sexual orientation — including heterosexual people.
We have already covered some oft-used conservative talking points. The New York Times, however, talked to some unnamed lawmakers with some pretty unusual concerns:
One senator recalled having to explain to a colleague that the legislation would not require insurance companies to pay for sex-change operations. Another spoke of phone calls from constituents who were convinced that their children could be taught in school by men wearing dresses. And conservative groups like the Family Research Council are warning their supporters that the bill would force Christian bookstores to hire drag performers. [New York Times]
Even Republicans have tried to debunk these kinds of fears, which echo warnings that gay marriage would lead to people marrying their pets.
The slippery slope to gay marriage
Multiple conservative groups are warning that "elevating sexual orientation to a protected status in nondiscrimination laws is widely considered to be one of the key steps toward marriage redefinition," as the American Family Association put it.
The National Review's Ryan T. Anderson agrees, claiming that ENDA would weaken "marriage culture" and treat "convictions" that "marriage is the union of a man and a woman" as if "they were bigotry."
ENDA would punish Christians and religious institutions
The conservative Family Research Council claims that "homosexuals and transgenders will use this law to marginalize Christians and take over the marketplace — until only their 'lifestyle' is promoted."
Other conservative groups have raised the concern that churches would be forced to hire gay and transgender people, despite the fact that, against the protests of some gay rights groups, ENDA includes exemptions that specifically allows religious institutions to take someone's sexual orientation into account when hiring — even for non-ministerial positions.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), his spokesman told the Washington Blade, tried to placate gay rights advocates by claiming his "first priority is to pass the strongest possible legislation which can garner 60 votes." But with so little enthusiasm in the House, no matter how shaky the reasoning, it'll be a surprise if even a weaker bill passes at all.
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