Last month, we told you about the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which is essentially a federal version of anti-LGBT license to discriminate measures that have been debated in numerous states.
Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, the federal version is gaining steam. The bill — introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), above left, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), above right — is up to 130 sponsors in the House, and 36 co-sponsors in the Senate. In fact, a House committee initially planned to mark up the bill this week. However, the committee markup reportedly was canceled due to objections by moderate Republicans, who’ve introduced an alternate proposal that contains LGBT protections.
Backers of the First Amendment Defense Act says it’s designed to prevent the federal government from revoking the tax-exempt status of organizations that object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds. However, LGBT groups claim the measure would promote taxpayer-funded anti-gay discrimination.
From the Washington Blade:
The legislation, which specifically addresses (but isn’t limited to) revocation of tax-exempt status by the federal government, isn’t as broad as other controversial religious freedom measures seen this year in state legislatures, such as those in Indiana and Arkansas. Still, LGBT advocates say the federal bill would nonetheless adversely impact LGBT people for a host of reasons.
For starters, even though President Obama signed an executive order last year barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the bill would allow a company to continue to contract with the federal government if it engages in discriminatory practices and cites opposition to same-sex marriage as the reason.
The bill would also have the effect of gutting Obama’s memorandum requiring hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid to grant visitation rights for same-sex couples. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the measure would permit a federal employee to refuse to process tax returns, visa applications or Social Security if a same-sex couple’s paperwork appears on his or her desk.
The legislation reportedly has created a split in the Republican Caucus, between conservatives who support it and moderates who don’t. Democrats, meanwhile, are accusing social conservatives of trying to use it as a wedge issue in the 2016 elections.
The New York Times reports that moderate Republicans who oppose the bill have introduced an alternate version that contains LGBT protections:
The bill proposed by moderates, though, would attach two provisions expanding protections long-sought by gay rights groups: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which outlaws workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, and an amendment to the federal Fair Housing Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected characteristics of housing seekers.
“This opens up a can of worms, and Congress needs to show it can do two things at once: protect religious freedoms and provide legal protections for nondiscrimination,” Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Friday. …
“I would really hate to see the Indiana nightmare turn into a national debacle,” he said.
For now, consideration of the First Amendment Defense Act appears to have been delayed, at least until before the August recess.