Senate Republicans have reintroduced a national bill permitting individuals to discriminate against queer and trans people based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. If passed, it would be one of the most dangerous anti-LGBTQ bills yet.
Sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) was originally put forward in 2015. Similar to Mississippi’s HB 1523, the legislation prevents the government from taking action against private individuals who refuse services because of a “moral conviction” that “marriage is or should be recognized as a union of one man and one woman.”
Unlike the earlier version of the bill, the 2018 edition does not apply to federal agencies, government workers, or health care facilities.
FADA would, however, allow private businesses and nonprofits to fire LGBTQ people if they state a religious basis for the decision. It would give a green light to the store owner who hangs a “No Gays Allowed” sign or a landlord who doesn’t wish to rent to trans people.
One unusual aspect of the updated FADA, however, is that the bill also appears to safeguard the beliefs of same-sex marriage supporters. One of the protected groups listed under Lee’s bill are individuals who hold marriage to be a relationship between “two individuals as recognized under federal law,” which would include LGBTQ couples.
Advocates say that language is a smokescreen for the legislation’s true intent: to negate the rights and protections of queer and transgender people.
“It appears to be a false attempt or a failed attempt to make this legislation constitutional by making it seem they’re not just targeting LGBTQ people,” says Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.
Ian Thompson, legislative representative with the American Civil Liberties Union, adds that the current bill expands the scope of prior legislation by targeting single mothers, pregnant women, or unmarried couples. It allows people to discriminate due to their view that “sexual relations outside marriage are improper.”
“Whatever the sponsors of this shameful legislation may say, this is a blatant example of using religion as a justification to discriminate, and the ACLU will fight to make sure it never becomes law,” Thompson claims in a press release.
A statement posted to Lee’s website, in which he argues for the importance of protecting the “traditional definition of marriage,” appears to support that view.
“What an individual or organization believes about the traditional definition of marriage is notand should never bea part of the government’s decision-making process when distributing licenses, accreditations, or grants,” the conservative claims. “And the First Amendment Defense Act simply ensures that this will always be true in America.”
To date, 21 Republican lawmakers have signed onto co-sponsor FADA, many of whom oppose LGBTQ rights. Supporters include Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
During his failed presidential run in 2016, Cruz was the national’s most vocal proponent of legislation preventing trans people from using bathrooms which correspond with their gender identity. Rubio, who also ran two years ago, said he would repeal an Obama executive order protecting LGBTQ federal workers if elected to the Oval Office.
The legislation died in committee in 2015 facing a certain veto by President Barack Obama, but President Donald Trump previously pledged to support the bill.
Shortly after taking office, Trump was reportedly set to sign an executive order extremely similar to the original version of FADA. Although that bill was nixed at the urging of his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, advisors close to the president have claimed alternate proposals are still under consideration.
Polls have consistently indicate that Americans oppose legislation permitting discrimination under the guise of religion.
Sixty-one percent of respondents in a 2017 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute claimed they were against bills allowing people of faith to refuse services to LGBTQ people. Other polls have shown that as many 80 percent of people in the U.S. oppose “license to discriminate” legislation.
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