Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is calling for the executive order that President Obama is poised to sign barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors to include a religious exemption along the lines of the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Hatch made the comments via a statement to the Washington Blade in response to a request to comment on the directive, which the White House on Monday announced President Obama intends to sign.
“While the specifics of this executive order are not yet clear, I believe it must include the same religious protections that are included in the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed the Senate,” Hatch said. “ENDA strikes a good balance to ensure that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated, but also that one of our nation’s fundamental freedoms — religious freedom — is still upheld. The same must be said for any Obama Administration initiative on this issue.”
Hatch offered the most pronounced reaction to the executive order among other Republicans federal lawmakers, who were largely silent when the White House made the news.
In September, Hatch was among 10 Senate Republicans who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar LGBT discrimination among public and private employers, not just federal contractors. At the time, Hatch said he was able to support the legislation because of the bill’s religious exemption.
A White House official responded to Hatch’s request for similar language in the executive order by saying he doesn’t any have details to share about the specifics of the directive.
Under the current version of ENDA before Congress, religious institutions, like churches or religious hospitals and schools, could continue to discriminate against LGBT workers in non-ministerial positions even if the bill were to become law. The religious exemption is broader than similar exemptions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for categories of race, gender, religion and national origin.
The issue of the religious exemption has become contentious among LGBT advocates amid a renewed focus on the language. Although most national groups still support the bill, two LGBT legal groups — the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center — have dropped support for the bill altogether as a result of the religious exemption.
Also among Republican supporters of ENDA in the Senate is Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who’s an original co-sponsor of the legislation. In a statement to the Blade, she said the executive order won’t go far enough in protecting LGBT workers.
“I have long supported legislation that prevents discrimination in the workplace,” Collins said. “That is why I was pleased that the Senate passed ENDA. Under the executive powers of the President, this executive order cannot be nearly as comprehensive as a law would be. That is why I urge the House to consider the Senate passed bill promptly so it can be signed into law by the President. All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream and to be free of unfair discrimination in the workplace.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who also voted for ENDA, was unfazed about the executive order. Asked by the Blade on Capitol Hill about his reaction to the White House announcement, McCain replied, “It’s fine.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, professed to be unaware of the news when asked by the Blade about the issue on Monday. He voted “no” when ENDA came to the Senate floor.
The remaining Republicans supporters of ENDA in the Senate didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment. None of the eight Republican co-sponsors of ENDA in the House also responded to a request to comment.
Additionally, the offices of Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) haven’t responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the planned executive order.