SEN. MIKE LEE (R-Utah) has reintroduced legislation in the U.S. Senate seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom”—and Donald Trump made signing such legislation a campaign promise.
The purported intent of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) is to protect individuals from adverse action by the U.S. government if they oppose same-sex marriage. Lee said in a statement: “FADA simply ensures that federal bureaucrats will never have the authority to require those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage to choose between their living in accordance with those beliefs and maintaining their occupation or their tax status.”
A section of the bill explicitly forbids the U.S. government from “alter[ing]in any way the federal tax treatment” of institutions that oppose same-sex marriage. That has been a concern expressed by public universities, such as Brigham Young, which fear that their tax-exempt status could be stripped away, as happened in 1983 to Bob Jones University for not recognizing interracial marriage. According to Lee’s office, the legislation has 21 co-sponsors, all of them Republicans.
Critics say FADA would harm LGBT rights by eroding federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. For example, FADA would undermine President Obama’s executive order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors. Although the legislation would not apply to federal for-profit contractors, it would apply to nonprofits, such as church-affiliated hospitals or universities, which would be able to engage in anti-LGBT discrimination and still obtain government contracts. Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, said of the bill: “One of the main goals is to freeze-frame the lack of civil rights protections for LGBT people. Many religiously affiliated non-profits want to keep getting lots of public money and want to be able to discriminate.”
David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that FADA “would legalize state-sanctioned discrimination and undermine key civil rights protections for lgbtq people. Supporters of this legislation are using religious liberty as a sword to hurt lgbtq families.” According to HRC, the legislation would impair LGBT protections in the Violence Against Women Act for emergency shelters, undermine LGBT non-discrimination rules for homeless shelters, and deny same-sex couples access to benefits under the Family & Medical Leave Act.
FADA has undergone various iterations. Although the latest version is in some respects narrower than earlier ones, it has new language covering individuals who think marriage should be limited to “two individuals as recognized under federal law,” not just confined to opposite-sex couples.
Excerpted from The Washington Blade. Reprinted with permission.