WASHINGTON, D.C. — There isn’t much Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) finds constitutional, from child labor laws and food safety protections to medical malpractice reform, FEMA, and poverty aid. Apparently, though, Lee’s version of the Constitution protects employers’ rights to fire workers just because they are gay.
Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), ThinkProgress asked Lee if he supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lee explained that he didn’t, saying that the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause was only intended to protect against racial discrimination:
KEYES: ENDA is something that rumbles every now and then in Congress. What’s your take, do you think it should be legal to fire someone just because they’re gay or transgender, or do you think that’s not in the purview of the Constitution?
LEE: Look, I think employers ought not make their hiring decisions based on categories like that, and I don’t think most of them do.
KEYES: But whether or not it should be a crime.
LEE: Whether it should be a federal crime, specific to federal law? No. I think the federal government has expanded its role into regulation of matters that historically that were in the purview of the states. [...]
KEYES: Is there any difference between firing someone for being gay rather than firing someone because of their race?
LEE: Yes, yes. The 14th Amendment — in fact the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments — were adopted specifically around the race issue. So, yeah, there is a difference.
In January, LGBT work rights groups ramped up pressure on the Obama administration to issue an executive order prohibiting the government from contracting with companies that do not have non-discrimination policies protecting LGBT workers, but the White House has yet to publicly embrace the policy. According to one report, 16 million workers would receive expanded protections from such an order.
Obama supports expanded protections for LGBT workers, but Lee’s views aren’t just out-of-step with the president and leading Democrats. According to recent polls, a majority of Republican voters also support expanding ENDA to protect LGBT workers from workplace discrimination.