AUGUSTA, Maine — A small but vocal national gay rights group announced Thursday that it is targeting Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is running for governor, for what they say is too soft a stance in Congress on protecting their rights when it comes to housing, employment and other issues.
The group, called Queer Nation, said it is troubled by Michaud’s long-term support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been pending in Congress for more than 10 years but to date has not received enough support for passage. Specifically, according to Duncan Osborne, a spokesman for Queer Nation, the concern is about a provision in the bill that would allow employers to make hiring and firing decisions involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people based on religious ideals.
“Our intent is ideally to get [Michaud] to withdraw his support for [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and to support comprehensive civil rights legislation that would protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said Osborne, who said Queer Nation is an all-volunteer activist organization with about a dozen core members. The group is targeting other members of Congress who support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with the same message.
“Mike Michaud should take his own advice and support comprehensive LGBT civil rights legislation, not a bill that has been languishing in Congress for 20 years and that gives LGBT Americans far less than half of the rights and protections found in the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Alan Klein, a member of Queer Nation. “Mike Michaud’s platitudes on [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] will not protect LGBT people.”
Michaud spokesman Dan Rafter said the congressman supports comprehensive LGBT legislation, but since that is not pending before Congress, he has been supportive of ENDA as a means to protect those rights.
Michaud, who last year announced that he is gay, said through his congressional spokesman Thursday that he has been a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act legislation since he was elected to Congress in 2002 with the intention that it give the gay and transgender community the same rights as other groups enjoy under the Civil Rights Act. Michaud also is supportive of a newly introduced amendment to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would significantly narrow the religious exemption for employers. The older version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed in the Senate last year and is pending in the House.
However, because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision earlier this month, which allowed employers to deny insurance coverage for certain kinds of contraception that they oppose on religious grounds, concern has been growing that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act could suffer the same fate.
“[Michaud] absolutely believes no one should face discrimination in getting or keeping a job simply because of who they are,” said Rafter. “In the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling, there was a narrower version of the religious exemption language filed. Rep. Michaud strongly supports the narrowed religious exemption amendment, and moving [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] forward with that language.”
EqualityMaine reiterated its support for Michaud in the the wake of the Queer Nation criticism.
“Congressman Michaud has been huge ally for ENDA since he began his service in Congress, which is part of the reason he has earned a 100 percent score [from EqualityMaine] of his congressional record. We’re grateful that he’s working to narrow the religious exemption and improve this bill,” the group’s executive director, Elise Johansen, said in a statement Thursday.
That might not go far enough for Queer Nation and other groups who are calling for either an amendment to the Civil Rights Act that explicitly supports the LGBT community or a separate omnibus bill that accomplishes the same thing. Rafter said Michaud would support that route but that bringing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, with the new amendment, to a vote in the House would be the quickest solution that could accomplish the same goal.
The issue could prove to be a political headache for Michaud, who in his gubernatorial campaign has been attacked for his changing views on gay rights over the years. During 11 terms in the Maine Legislature, Michaud voted against gay rights issues but later voted to send the issue to referendum and later sponsored legislation to allow domestic partners of state employees to receive health benefits under the state plan. While in Congress in 2007, Michaud voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because he said it didn’t do enough to protect transgender people.
Osborne said if Queer Nation’s attack on Michaud costs him politically, it would be minor in comparison to the risks for the LGBT community.
“We’re less concerned with Mike Michaud’s political career and more concerned with the circumstances of easily millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people who on things like credit, housing and employment are unprotected under federal law,” said Osborne.