Sunday, January 25, 2009

ENDA, Illinois, and President Obama

President Obama outlines his civil rights agenda on the White House website. About half of the page is a description of his "Support for the LGBT Community." In articulating the president's desire to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list of protected characteristics in federal laws and rules prohibiting discrimination in employment, the site observes that Mr. Obama sponsored similar legislation while serving in the Illinois State Senate.

The president's invocation of the Illinois legislation is troubling. The bill that State Sen. Obama sponsored did not exempt religious employers from the ban on sexual orientation discrimination -- a market departure from the statutes adopted in other states. Subsequent efforts to add such an exemption were rejected.

This, of course, does not necessarily mean that President Obama will push for a version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that lacks a religious exemption. However, it is not particularly reassuring that the president, earlier in his career, was, at a minimum, insufficiently sensitive to religious freedom concerns.