The U.S. House of Representatives last night approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which contained a “religious liberty” amendment added by freshman Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) which undermines President Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.
The anti-LGBT provision, offered as an amendment by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) in the House Armed Services Committee, would allow, under the guise of religious liberty, sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination in all federal agencies, not just the Department of Defense. The provision jeopardizes President Obama’s executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination in federal contracting, and could have far-reaching consequences, potentially even undermining existing federal nondiscrimination provisions protecting workers against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more.
Representatives Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Adam Smith (D-WA) filed an amendment to strip the Russell Amendment, but the House Rules Committee — an arm of House Republican Leadership — rejected the bipartisan amendment, refusing to allow debate or a vote on the House floor. The amendment to strip the discriminatory Russell Amendment was also cosponsored by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Scott Peters (D-CA).
A last-ditch effort by House Democrats to strip the amendment failed along nearly party lines on a procedural vote. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) spoke on the floor against the Russell Amendment. “The anti-LGBT provision in NDAA is not about supporting our troops, defeating ISIS, or protecting religious liberty – it’s about bigotry, plain and simple,” said Rep. Maloney. “We had an opportunity to strike this anti-LGBT language and in doing so, strike a blow for equality, but unfortunately many of our colleagues chose to strip LGBT Americans of basic workplace protections, saying it is once again legal for our LGBT brothers and sisters to be fired because of who they are, and who they love – this is wrong. I am incredibly disappointed in many of my colleagues refusal to take a stand against discrimination and strike the hate.”
The Senate is expected to vote on its own NDAA shortly after which both bills will be combined, approved again, and sent to the President for signature.
The White House has said it opposes the Russell amendment.