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Wayne Bessen

Bush: The gay rights president
Now that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has passed the U.S. House, the religious right has launched an all-out offensive to ensure people can be fired because of their sexual orientation. The first obvious fib propagated by Focus on the Family and the Christian Business Association (CBA) is that this bill is bad for business.

“Businesses should be up in arms over ENDA,” said Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action. “This bill will increase their litigation and compliance costs, create conflict among employees and is simply bad for business.”

Notice how they used the words “should be” up in arms instead of “are.” What they fail to point out is 49 of the Fortune 50 have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, as do 90 percent of the Fortune 500. With all due respect to the Christian Business Association — I trust the Fortune 500 more than the Faith 500.

Focus on the Family and the CBA aren’t really concerned about the negligible effect on business — what drives them bonkers is that they might have to mind their own business. It isn’t enough that in America they have the freedom to pray as they wish and practice their religion as they see fit. They aren’t happy unless they can impose their values and bully people into adopting their beliefs.

Focus on the Family’s true agenda reared its ugly head in a story on the group’s website which said: “ENDA would prevent employers from taking sexual orientation into consideration when hiring, promoting or firing.”

Well, this is absolutely true. Why should sexual orientation be taken into consideration for a job? If people work hard, pay taxes and play by the rules they shouldn’t have their careers ruined and personal finances wrecked because of an employer’s religious hang ups.
“ENDA also could silence religious speech in the workplace,” the story goes on to say. Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Free Market Foundation, elaborated on this point in a debate against me on the Alan Colmes radio show, by complaining that ENDA might force him to take down a screen saver with a Bible verse condemning homosexuality.

First, the notion of “free speech” at work is patently absurd. If we could truly say whatever we wanted to our boss, few people would be employed. There is reasonable expectation that employees make the effort to create a harmonious workplace. Condemning anyone — for whatever reason — results in a hostile work environment that lowers morale and production.
Any employee that can’t make it through eight hours without hurling insults at co-workers — even if they are based on an interpretation of the Bible — should be fired. Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if people were given the green light to debase others based on their beliefs?

Of course, these fundamentalists don’t want all people hurling nasty barbs at the water cooler — they want to reserve for themselves the special right to be nasty. If a co-worker insulted their faith — they’d be on the phone with a lawyer crying victim faster than one could say Leviticus.
Finally, ENDA has a religious exemption — so no radical churches would be required to hire gay people. Therefore, the choir can remain closeted, as it has for centuries.

I want to end this column with a surreal thought. If the Senate passes ENDA, then the bill would go to President Bush. There is no doubt in my mind that he will veto it, but what if I am wrong? There are three remote — but real — reasons why Bush might sign ENDA.

1. The Cheney family could lobby him and he might have difficulty defying his surrogate Daddy.
2. Bush has few legislative accomplishments. Signing landmark civil rights legislation would boost his legacy.

3. Like rats, the right wing has abandoned Bush’s sinking ship. There is a small chance Bush will get vindictive and put a thumb in their eye.

If any of these scenarios occur, Bush instantly becomes the most pro-gay president in history. In the not-too-distant future, we might pay to see him as the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Campaign’s national dinner.

Now, that’s enough to give anyone indigestion.

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