HAS HIDDEN AGENDA
Institute on Religion and Democracy
February 3, 1999
In his most recent State of the Union address, President Clinton asked Congress to
ratify the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban
"discrimination" based on sexual orientation. Sexual preference would join the
litany of other legally protected minority categories based on race, gender, age, religion
or physical disability. Sexual minorities, no less than ethnic or racial minorities, would
become a new federally protected class entitled to their fair share of societal sanction
The President, by executive decree, has already banned discrimination based on sexual
orientation among the federal government's 2.9 million civil servants. In a U.S. House of
Representatives vote last August, 63 Republicans joined 189 Democrats in refusing to
overturn the federal order. At least ten states have adopted ENDA-type legislation.
Rhetoric among ENDA's supporters about minority rights is politically savvy but deeply
deceptive. After all, who is in favor of "discrimination?" But the push for such
legislation has little to do with genuine concern about workplace prejudice. Outside of
the military and the church, where do homosexuals typically face workplace barriers?
Market surveys show that homosexuals, on average, have higher incomes than the average
household. The real objective of "equal rights" legislation for homosexuals is
to overthrow our society's few remaining barriers to full acceptance of homosexual
behavior and other non-traditional sexual practices.
Specifically, ENDA is wrong for several reasons. First, it gives legal protection to a
behavior that Christianity and Judaism (along with most religions) have historically
taught is morally destructive. Traditional religion cites heterosexual marriage as the
ideal for sexual expression. It teaches that sex should not be treated as simply a
recreation or a "lifestyle." Sex is a powerful force with great capacity for
good or evil. History shows that full sexual liberation, shorn of all taboos, leads not to
freedom but anarchy. A national policy that treats sexual practice as no different from
ethnic identity would emasculate traditional moral restraints regarding sexuality. (It
should be noted that several mainline church groups, like the National Council of Churches
and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, have endorsed ENDA, disregarding
their own official teachings.)
Secondly, if ENDA's goal is to codify protection for homosexuality, why not similar
legislative protection in the workplace for adulterers or aficionados of pornography? Why
discriminate against their preference, which is probably a lot more common than
homosexuality? (Although not commonly acknowledged by its supporters, ENDA actually may do
just that, since it speaks not specifically of homosexuality but merely of
"orientation," which could include virtually anything.)
Third, sexual conduct is the product of free will and not an immutable, morally neutral
characteristic such as ethnicity or gender. Even if sexual orientation is genetically
predetermined, for which the evidence is indeterminate, the capacity for free choice in
terms of behavior remains. Only a complete nihilist would advocate the equality of all
behaviors in the same way that we should affirm racial or gender equality.
Fourth, expanding the language and legal definition of "rights" will further
dilute the protection of legitimate freedoms. Legally compelling citizens to accept exotic
sexual behavior is the desired goal of some, but it is not a "right" in the same
essential sense as free speech or religious practice. "Rights" have developed
historically as safeguards against a coercive state seeking politically or economically to
exploit its citizens. Imposing public acceptance of a traditional sexual taboo does not
qualify as a "right" under any reasonable definition. Indeed, it would deprive
many citizens of their own right to disapprove of some sexual practices.
Very few employers care about the sexual preferences of their employees. But should the
federal or state government nonetheless compel all employers to accept practices that are
morally offensive to some employers and that may, in some cases, be professionally
disruptive? The federal government does not allow homosexual behavior among military
personnel for reasons that may well be operative in other work situations.
And finally, it would seem inevitable that if ENDA becomes law, spousal benefits for
same-sex partners would eventually follow. The Defense of Marriage Act, ratified by
President and Congress overwhelmingly in 1996, would then become a mute point.
ENDA purportedly addresses workplace discrimination. But it is actually a powerfully
symbolic weapon for battering down the remaining societal barriers to public homosexual
expression, legally sanctioned same-sex marriages, and the full acceptance of all
consensual sexual behavior, no matter how bizarre.
The proponents of homosexuality and other forms of sexual liberation are largely free
to conduct their personal lives as they please. But persons who subscribe to more
traditional beliefs about sexuality should not be forced to subsidize or acclaim behavior
that their conscience and religious convictions persuade them is wrong.