U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, is among more than 20 Senate co-sponsors of a revived anti-LGBT bill — backed by President Donald Trump — that would make it legal for businesses, nonprofits and individuals to discriminate against same-sex couples, single parents and unmarried couples.
The bill, known as the First Amendment Defense Act, “is harmful legislation that would legalize state-sanctioned discrimination and undermine key civil rights protections for LGBTQ people,” David Stacy, government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), says in a news release
. “Supporters of this legislation are using religious liberty as a sword to hurt LGBTQ families rather than staying true to our long tradition of it serving as a shield to protect religious expression from government overreach.”
The legislation essentially would endorse discrimination against same-sex couples, single parents and unmarried couples when an entity expresses a firmly held religious belief or moral conviction, according to HRC. For instance, the law would protect a bakery that refuses to bake a cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds that the bakery’s owner opposes same-sex marriage.
Simply put, this measure represents an all-out assault on LGBT rights related to housing, federal contracts, domestic violence and medical leave, among other things.
“What an individual or organization believes about the traditional definition of marriage is not — and should never be — a part of the government’s decision-making process when distributing licenses, accreditations or grants,” U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who’s sponsoring the bill, says in a news release.
“And the First Amendment Defense Act simply ensures that this will always be true in America — 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,” Lee adds.
Lee introduced a version of the First Amendment Defense Act in 2015, but it failed to gain traction in Congress. We hope the 2018 version of the bill meets the same fate.
The American Civil Liberties Union points out that unlike previous incarnations of the bill, the 2018 measure doesn’t single out LGBT families as targets of the religious or moral exemption.
“Ironically, doing so only opens the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination against even more people. We will fight to make sure it never becomes law,” the ACLU says in a tweet.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump voiced support for such legislation, according to Advocate.com
, but he hasn’t spoken out on the newly filed bill.
“If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths,” Trump said in 2016.
Twenty-three members of Congress from Texas co-sponsored the 2015 version of the bill. That was the most congressional co-sponsors from any of the 50 states. Among the Republican backers from Texas were U.S. Reps. John Carter, Blake Farenthold, Michael McCaul, Lamar Smith and Roger Williams — all of whom represent parts of the Austin metro area — as well as Cruz and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the other Republican senator from Texas.
FADA would roll back critical protections for LGBTQ people and their families:
▪ Executive Order 11,246 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors. However, under this Act, the federal government would be required to continue to contract with a non-profit business or organization with a record of discriminatory employment practices against married gays and lesbians if that employer cited as the reason for the discrimination their belief that same-sex marriage was wrong.
▪ The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued guidance that shelters receiving HUD grants must not discriminate against same-sex married couples. A non-profit organization could cite this Act and provide their religious conviction against same-sex marriage as a reason to put a same-sex couple back on the street.
▪ The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides explicit protections from discrimination against LGBTQ beneficiaries. However, under this Act, an emergency shelter receiving VAWA funds to provide services for survivors of intimate partner violence could turn away someone in a same-sex marriage because of their religious belief.
▪ The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act grants a statutory right to 12 weeks of leave for personal illness or caregiving – including caring for a spouse. The Department of Labor has made clear that these rights extend to same-sex married couples regardless of where they live. However, under this Act, closely-held businesses or not-for-profit organizations would be allowed to discriminate by refusing to let a gay or lesbian employee care for their sick spouse despite these clear federal protections.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on a nearly identical version of FADA in July 2016. Senator Lee testified in favor of FADA at the hearing.
WASHINGTON – Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) reintroduced the First Amendment Defense Act Thursday, a bill designed to prevent the federal government from discriminating against individuals or institutions based on their beliefs about marriage.
FADA prohibits the federal government from taking adverse action against individuals or institutions based on their definition of marriage or beliefs about premarital sex. It creates a cause of action in federal court for individuals or institutions that have been discriminated against by the government. Plaintiffs can seek injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and compensatory damages.
There are currently 21 co-sponsors on the Senate bill, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jim Risch (R-ID), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), Ben Sasse (R-NE), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Thune (R-SD), Rand Paul (R-KY), David Perdue (R-GA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Boozman (R-LA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).