National LGBT activist group Queer Nation is targeting an openly gay gubernatorial candidate for supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) along with a narrower version of its religious exemption.
Queer Nation decries Democratic Representative Mike Michaud of Maine for his long-term support of ENDA. A religious exemption in the bill “is broad enough to drive a truck through,” Andrew Miller, a member of Queer Nation, tells National Review Online. Michaud is the Democratic candidate for Maine governor in the November election. ENDA, which prohibits employers from hiring or firing employers on the basis of sexual orientation, has been pending in Congress for more than 10 years.
According to a Queer Nation press release, the current religious exemption in ENDA would let nearly 200,000 religiously affiliated employers fire or deny jobs to LGBT Americans. Michaud, however, backs a newly introduced amendment to ENDA that would greatly narrow the exemption, the Bangor Daily News reported. This narrowing of the exemption does not appease Queer Nation.
“I will say that there is one thing that everyone in the LGBT community agrees on: The religious exemption in ENDA is a disaster,” Miller tells NRO. The members of Queer Nation also completely reject ENDA, saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect LGBT rights. The act specifically prohibits employment discrimination but does not address other areas that LGBT advocates consider within the purview of civil rights.
“What we and the LGBT community want and need is comprehensive civil rights legislation,” Miller said.
EqualityMaine, a Maine LGBT advocacy organization, confirmed its support for Michaud despite Queer Nation’s criticism.
Its executive director Elise Johansen said in a statement to the Bangor Daily News, “We’re grateful that [Michaud] is working to narrow the religious exemption and improve this bill,” praising his sponsorship of ENDA.
Michaud co-sponsored ENDA when he was elected to Congress in 2002, believing it would extend the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the LGBT community. Miller points out that the Maine Human Rights Act is a more comprehensive piece of legislation. He asked, “If it’s good enough for Maine, why is it not good enough for all Americans?”
Queer Nation thinks upholding ENDA, which specifically addresses employment, effectively signals that LGBT Americans are not equal in all ways to every other American. The organization has been mobilizing since May to educate others in the LGBT community about what they consider to be the act’s shortcomings. The group’s Facebook post on this issue reached nearly 50,000 people, and the group has also promulgated its view among leadership in the Democratic Party and the congressional gay and lesbian caucus.
Nonetheless, the members of Queer Nation don’t seem to be completely distancing themselves from Michaud. Miller notes, “We’re confident that Congressman Michaud can handle his own political future successfully. He has said that he also supports comprehensive civil rights legislation.”
The group has also targeted Congressman Nancy Pelosi for her support of ENDA, as well as gay and lesbian members of Congress in Colorado, Arizona, New York, and other states. Queer Nation hopes the legislation will die as the legislative session comes to a close, and that in the next session, politicians will introduce comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.
Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign has been attacked for his past variability on gay rights. During eleven terms as a state representative in the Pine Tree State, he voted against gay rights bills, only to send them to referendum, eventually sponsoring legislation to grant health benefits to domestic partners of state employees. In 2007, Michaud voted against a version of ENDA because he thought its protection of transgender people was lacking.
— Celina Durgin is a Franklin Center intern at National Review Online.