Senate Adds Religious Exemption To LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill

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US Capitol 2
U.S. Capitol.

The United States Senate has added a new provision that would religious groups from a bill preventing discrimination against gay employees.

The amendment, backed by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), exempts religious organizations from the key provisions of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Politico reports. The core act prevents employers from discriminating against employees on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, an important step for LGBT Americans. Under Ayotte’s accepted amendment, however, religious employers would not be bound to the bill.

“I have long been a strong supporter of the rights of conscience, of the rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution to religious freedom,” Ayotte said on the Senate floor. “So these protections are very important within this bill.”

Portman, the first Senate Republican to support same-sex marriage, added that the amendment was ultimately about religious freedom.

“We must make certain that in pursuit of enforcing non-discrimination, those religious employers are not subject to a different form of discrimination -- government retaliation,” Portman told Politico.

Democrats faced strong opposition from Republicans bringing the bill up for debate, and it’s likely that this exemption for religious groups is an attempt at assuaging Republican interests.

Most of the opposition against the act came after House Speaker John Boehner announced his opposition to the White House-backed Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 just hours before the Senate voted to consider the bill. Despite Republican opposition however, the Senate voted 61-30 to begin consideration of the bill, just one more vote than the 60 needed, Reuters reports. 52 Senate Democrats and 2 independents were joined by seven of 45 Republicans in the vote. All of the votes against hearing the bill came from Republicans.

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner press secretary Michael Steel said in a Monday email to Politico. Not only did Boehner state that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is unnecessary, he also implied that it might not even come up for a vote in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Boehner’s claims “pretty rich” and stated that the speaker’s remarks were “callous” towards those who face discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

“Not only is Speaker Boehner’s claim untrue, it is also callous. It fails to take into account the heartbreak and suffering — not to mention lost wages and productivity — that workplace discrimination causes,” Reid said.

According to Reuters, about 5 percent of those who voted in the 2012 presidential election identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Of those 5 percent, an overwhelming 76 percent voted for Barack Obama.

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