GOP Senator Reintroduces Bill To Protect Discrimination Against LGBTQ People

Sen. Mike Lee wants to make sure some people can act on their religious beliefs.
Sen. Mike Lee (right) has made it his mission to pass the First Amendment Defense Act.
Sen. Mike Lee (right) has made it his mission to pass the First Amendment Defense Act.
George Frey via Getty Images

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) reintroduced on Thursday the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would provide a range of federal protections for individuals and companies that discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Framed as a religious liberty measure, the legislation aims to prohibit the federal government from taking “discriminatory” action against a person for speaking or acting in accordance with a sincerely held religious or moral belief against same-sex marriage, polygamy or sexual relations outside of marriage.

The government itself would be barred from disfavoring such people in terms of tax status, grants, contracts, loans, licenses, employment, benefits, access to facilities, and a long list of other federal goodies.

And the bill defines the term “person” to include nonpublicly traded for-profit companies.

“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,” Lee said in a statement on Thursday.

The bill, he argued, would ensure 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.”

LGBTQ advocates warn that the First Amendment Defense Act could set a dangerous precedent for what is protected under the banner of religious freedom. David Stacy, government affairs director for the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said the bill’s protections would amount to “state-sanctioned discrimination.”

“Supporters of this legislation are using religious liberty as a sword to hurt LGBTQ families,” Stacy told HuffPost.

Lee and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) first introduced versions of this legislation in 2015. Neither of those bills made it out of committee.

But the revived bill ― which has a total of 22 GOP co-sponsors, including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) ― reframes the original wording to exclude publicly traded for-profit companies, federal employees and contractors, and health care facilities from the list of protected entities. That revision could make all the difference.

The reintroduction of the bill comes as the Trump administration has overturned multiple protections for LGBTQ people established under President Barack Obama. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October released a memo announcing that federal civil rights legislation does not protect transgender people from discrimination in the workplace.

The Trump administration has also thrown its support behind a Colorado baker who was penalized for refusing to make a cake for a gay couple and whose case is before the U.S. Supreme Court. And perhaps inspired by the president, several states passed anti-LGBTQ adoption laws last year.

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