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July 09, 2014 11:09 AM Hobby Lobby’s Polarizing Effect

By Ed Kilgore

I don’t know if any of the five Justices who formed the majority in the Hobby Lobby case had reason to anticipate this, but they’ve managed to unravel decades of effort towards building a coalition behind a large-scale anti-discrimination law, as explained by WaPo’s Ed O’Keefe:

Several major gay rights groups withdrew support Tuesday for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would bolster gay and transgender rights in the workplace, saying they fear that broad religious exemptions included in the current bill might compel private companies to begin citing objections similar to those that prevailed in a U.S. Supreme Court case last week….
Signs of crumbling support for ENDA came first Tuesday from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, one of several gay rights group that has aggressively pushed Obama to expand gay rights through executive action since the start of his presidency.
Rea Carey, the group’s executive director, said in an interview that “If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can’t have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them. We disagree with that trend. The implications of Hobby Lobby are becoming clear.”
“We do not take this move lightly,” she added. “We’ve been pushing for this bill for 20 years.”

The presumptive “fix” such groups would be a significant narrowing of—or perhaps even elimination of—exemptions for religious groups that could provide via Hobby Lobby a statutory bridge to exemptions for companies, and ultimately a broad and expanding zone of legalized discrimination. Such steps would, of course, become a fresh excuse for Republicans—who have stalled ENDA in the House—to oppose the legislation.

Perhaps the first step in rebuilding a coalition around a revised ENDA would be to figure out a broad progressive response to the entire set of “religious liberty” demands instead of dealing with them piecemeal in this or that bill, now that the pious hope of placating them with limited exemptions seems to be failing with a big assist from SCOTUS.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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