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First Amendment Defense Act

Filed under: Marriage

S. 2525

The Problem

The right to believe is fundamental. The right to use taxpayer dollars to discriminate is not. The U.S. Constitution provides strong protections for individuals and organizations to exercise religion and to freely speak about beliefs. Nothing in federal law, including the right to receive exempt tax status, a federal grant, or other federal benefit, can be denied on the basis of a sincerely held religious belief. However, the federal government has an equally strong obligation and interest in eradicating harmful discrimination. Acts that discriminate against a third party—an employee, a homeless family, a single mother—have no business being funded by the federal government. However, some members of Congress are attempting to carve out exemptions from our nation’s basic civil rights laws to create a dangerous system of state-sanctioned discrimination designed to undermine existing federal protections for LGBTQ people.

What is the First Amendment Defense Act?

The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) would legalize state-sanctioned discrimination. On its face, this bill would prohibit the federal government from “discriminating” against someone because of their belief regarding marriage including that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage. In reality, this bill would undermine the government’s ability to enforce the federal protections that exist to protect LGBTQ people and their families. Under FADA, individuals, many businesses, and non-profit organizations—even those using taxpayer dollars from grants or contracts with the federal government—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, there would be little recourse.

FADA Would Roll Back Critical Protections for LGBTQ People and Their Families 

FADA would undermine core civil rights protections for LGBTQ people. For example:

  • The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides explicit protections from discrimination against LGBTQ beneficiaries. However, under FADA, 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.
  • Executive Order 11,246 prohibits businesses receiving federal contracts from discriminating against LGBTQ employees across their workforce whether or not those employees are working on projects related to a government contract. FADA would limit these protections to workers engaged in federal contract work, requiring the federal government to continue to contract with a business with a record of discriminatory employment practices against LGBTQ people if that employer cited their belief that same-sex marriage was wrong as the reason for the discrimination.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued guidance that shelters receiving HUD grants must not discriminate against same-sex married couples. An organization could cite FADA and provide their religious conviction against same-sex marriage as a reason to put a same-sex couple back on the street.
  • Currently the vast majority of degree-granting institutions follow the American Psychological Association standards or those laid out by state-accreditation boards when designing psychology graduate programs, both of which reject the practice of conversion therapy. However, under FADA, universities accepting federal funds would be required to grant degrees to professional students who insisted in engaging in conversion therapy with clients as part of their studies.

What is the Current the Status of the Bill?

FADA was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) on March 8, 2018.


For more information, please contact legislation@hrc.org. Read about other Federal Legislation pertinent to the LGBTQ community here.

Last updated: March 29, 2018