A House committee has approved a measure that threatens to derail President Obama’s executive order that forces federal-contracted service providers to protect their LGBT employers from discrimination.
In July 2014 Obama signed an order that forbid federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual discrimination or gender identity. This extended to religious organization contractors (although they are allowed to show hiring bias to religious believers).
The legislation came into effect in April 2015 and was estimated to effect some 28million workers – or one in five of the US workforce. It was widely welcomed by LGBT advocates.
Yesterday morning, during the House Armed Services Committee markup of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Oklahoma Republican Rep. Steve Russell introduced an amendment that would offer religion-affiliated contractors exemptions based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American with Disabilities Act. Neither of these acts specifically mention LGBT discrimination.
Voting mainly along party lines, the Committee approved the measure by a vote of 33-29. The entire defense bill will now pass to the House floor for approval, although it may be further amended before reaching that stage.
If the amendment becomes law it would override Obama’s executive order and allow any ‘religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution or religious society’ to legally discriminate against LGBT employers.
Besides the obvious ramifications of the amendment, LGBT advocates are further concerned that there is no constitutional definition of ‘religious corporation’, and courts could broadly interpret it to apply to any company that was owned by a Christian family.
In 2014, the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby successfully used a religious freedom law to challenge providing insurance coverage for contraception.
The ‘vague’ amendment was ‘strongly condemned’ by LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. In a statement, David Stacey, HRC Government Affairs Director said: ‘Rep. Russell’s harmful amendment would strip away existing protections for LGBT workers by undermining President Obama’s executive order on LGBT non-discrimination protections in federal contracting.
‘Evidently some House Republicans want to emulate their state legislative colleagues in undermining legal protections for LGBT Americans. House Republican Leadership must get this language out of the bill.’