Obstacles to legal equality for gay and lesbian Americans are crumbling fast. Congress has repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevented gay service members from being open about their sexuality. Nearly a dozen states have legalized same-sex marriage, and a stampede of U.S. senators — including two Republicans — has endorsed marriage equality. Activists are hopeful that the Supreme Court will overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Yet gays and lesbians still lack protection under federal law against being fired or refused employment because of their sexual orientation. That would change with enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was reintroduced in Congress last week. But just as prospects for the legislation seem to be improving, even in the GOP-controlled House, some supporters of gay rights are crying foul about an exemption in the law for religious employers.
At present, 21 states have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 16 states (including California) and the District of Columbia also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. ENDA, which bans discrimination on both grounds, would establish a national standard similar to the one that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.