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New Bill Would Allow Discrimination Against LGBTQ People for ‘Moral’ Reasons

Exactly one month after a shooter killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Republicans in the House of Representatives are hearing arguments for a law that would permit businesses to deny rights to LGBTQ employees.
July 12, 2016, 9:38pm
Photo via Flickr user taedc

On the one-month anniversary of the massacre that killed 49 people at a gay club in Orlando, a congressional hearing is taking place for a piece of legislation that would allow for legal discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

The bill is called the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), and it aims to allow citizens, businesses, and nonprofits to discriminate against LGBTQ people, single mothers, and unmarried couples for "moral" or "religious" reasons. The legislation would extend this right to discrimination even to businesses and nonprofits working under contract with the US government—meaning taxpayer money could go into the pockets of practicing bigots.

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The discriminations allowed by the law would run deeper than permitting grocery stores to refuse to bake a gay wedding cake. Citing so-called "religious freedom," the bill would also let businesses deny gay and lesbian employees federal rights, including time off to care for ailing spouses, or allow a school to fire a teacher believed to have engaged in premarital sex.

A similar bill was signed into law in Mississippi earlier this year, but Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the Federal District Court blocked the law in June, citing the First Amendments's establishment clause and equal protection clause and calling the law "a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity." Similarly, multiple lawsuits where citizens and organizations claimed religious freedom should permit them to exert racial and gender discrimination have been rejected by federal courts.

FADA has garnered 171 co-sponsors, including one Democratic congressman, and has been endorsed by Donald Trump. Today, merely one month after the massacre in Orlando, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the bill.

It's insensitive at best, appalling at worst.

David Stacy, the government affairs director of the Human Right Campaign, tells Broadly that although it's unclear if the timing of the hearing was intentional, the House Republicans "were certainly aware of it."

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"It's insensitive at best, appalling at worst," he says. "Especially given the fact that the House has not passed a resolution about Orlando one month later, which is far above the average amount of time. On average it takes about three legislative days to get resolutions [about similar tragedies] passed, and in the past month there have been 13 legislative days. It really signals House Republicans being out of step with what Republican voters and Americans want."

The HRC is concerned that the bill will be brought to the floor before this year's election but says they will be actively working to prevent that from happening. "The House Republicans should be doing what the American people want, and more than 70 percent of Americans actually support anti-discrimination laws," Stacy says.

Among those testifying at the hearing regarding the bill is Jim Obergefell, who last June was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that resulted in marriage equality across the United States. Speaking to the congressional committee, Obergefell juxtaposed his experience in June 2015 with his experience one year later.

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"June of this year was a time of heartbreak for millions around the world, including myself," he said. "The murder of 49 people and wounding of 53 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12 was a devastating tragedy and the worst attack on the LGBTQ community in our nation's history. Today, exactly one month after this horrifying event, I am appearing before this congressional committee to discuss a bill that would authorize sweeping taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBTQ people, single mothers, and unmarried couples. I think that is profoundly sad."

He continued to highlight the hypocrisy of the bill and to point out its logical flaws.

"Earlier in this hearing it was stated that the purpose of the First Amendment Defense Act is to ensure no one is discriminated against because of how they view marriage. I would like you to read the bill again and understand that is exactly what this bill does. It allows discrimination against me, and couples like me and John across this country who believe in marriage equality, who believe in our constitutional right to marry the person we love. I believe that the United States Congress must be better than this."