HRC responded to a bill introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), called the “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA), which seeks to permit discrimination by individuals, many businesses, and non-profit organizations against same-sex couples, single parents and unmarried couples:
The bill, cosponsored by 21 Senate Republicans, would bar the federal government from ameliorating discrimination against same-sex couples, single parents, and unmarried couples when an entity evokes a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction. Under FADA, individuals, many businesses and non-profit organizations using taxpayer funds could openly violate non-discrimination policies or refuse to serve same-sex couples. As long as they claimed their actions are based on their belief about marriage, the government would have little recourse.
"The First Amendment Defense Act is harmful legislation that would legalize state-sanctioned discrimination and undermine key civil rights protections for LGBTQ people,” said David Stacy, HRC Government Affairs Director. “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."
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.